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A second family: How Camp Kesem worked its ‘magic’ on Anna Prosser

Alina Jablonski
Anna Prosser poses for a photo on Saturday, June 17, 2023, at Camp Kesem. Provided photo by Alina Jablonski

When Anna Prosser was 10 years old, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

She was told of the diagnosis nine years ago in October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — which has since become a challenging time for Prosser.

“It’s very difficult,” Prosser said. “It’s bringing up a lot of memories and resurfacing memories that I forgot about from that time, so it’s a really emotional time for me.”

Prosser can recall the day she was told about her mother’s diagnosis.

“She called my brother and I up to her bedroom, and as a little kid you’re like ‘Oh no, like I’m going up to my mom’s room, what’s about to happen?’” Prosser said. “And then, it was my dad that explained it, he was like ‘So, your mom’s sick,’ and I was like, ‘So she got the flu or something? Why do I need to know she has the flu?’ And my dad was like ‘No, it’s more serious than that. Like, she has cancer.’”

Prosser remembers not fully getting to live out her childhood like her classmates, having to grow up quickly and learn to take care of her mother and brother while her father was working an hour away from home. 

“I was only 10,” Prosser said. “I feel like I’m a lot more mature than people my age because of that experience.”

Prosser’s new responsibilities put her in a position where she didn’t experience the most normal childhood. Once her parent’s discovered Kesem, she got to fulfill her childhood needs each week she went to camp.

Camp Kesem, a week-long summer camp for children whose parents have cancer or are in recovery, provided a life-changing outlet for Prosser — one that continues to have an impact on her today. 

“My parents found Kesem through one of my dad’s coworkers, and my parents looked it up, and they were like ‘Sure, like let’s give this a shot,’ so we ended up going to West Virginia’s chapter ‘cause they were closest to us,.” Prosser said. “It was absolutely amazing. You’re not the person you are at home, like you’re not the ‘cancer kid,’ like you’re a kid having a fun week at summer camp.” 

Kesem, the word itself being Hebrew for “magic,” holds typical summer camp activities for all that attend, such as fishing and nature walks which cultivate life-long bonds among the campers. 

“Cancer isn’t mentioned at all except for one day out of the week and that is empowerment, and that’s the one time where the kids are allowed to share their story if they want,” Prosser said. 

“It’s not like a ‘bringing down’ kind of sense, it’s to empower the kids like, ‘My parent has cancer but … I’m here,’” Prosser said. “It’s a really hard thing for kids to share their stories, cause for me, for the longest time, it took me so long to be able to say it out loud that my mom has cancer, it still makes me emotional when I talk about it, but it’s so inspiring for me to see the kids talk about that.”

Kesem feels like a “second family” to Prosser, helping her and other campers get through a difficult time that they all shared. 

“I feel like having that shared understanding of why they’re there brings the kids closer together on a deeper level than just like ‘Oh, I wanted to come to a summer camp.’ We have a special reason, but that’s not what makes Kesem special, it’s the people that makes Kesem special, and when you go to Kesem it’s not just a summer camp, it’s a second family to a lot of people, and I feel like so many people don’t understand that,” Prosser said.

After her own camping experience at Kesem, Prosser decided to give back to the kids whose position she was once in as a counselor at Kentucky’s Kesem chapter. Prosser said she is the only former camper out of all the staff.

“It’s so amazing. I feel like I’m finally able to give back to other kids who are going through such a struggling time,” Prosser said. “When I was younger I looked up to those counselors so much, and I’m so grateful to be able to now be one, and inspire kids that although this is a very tough thing, you will get through this and you will survive this.”

One of Prosser’s favorite aspects of the camp is being able to come up with her own name for the week. By going as a different name for the week, they can feel as if they’re someone else than “the kid whose parent has cancer.”

“You have a camp name, nobody goes by their real name during the camp week,” Prosser said. “So (a) little 10-year-old me decided the perfect camp name was ‘Marshmellow.’ It’s still my camp name today.”

After fighting against cancer, Prosser’s mother has now won the battle, as she is now cancer free. The two of them have been through the worst of it together, their bond now unbreakable.

“We are very close. I call her two to three times a day everyday,” Prosser said. “As I grew up and I understood what our family went through, I feel like a part of me grew closer to her because of that experience and wanted to keep my younger self alive cause I feel like a lot of my younger self was lost during that time period.”

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Lilly Keith, Assistant News Editor

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    Emily TremoulisNov 2, 2023 at 8:22 am

    Oh, Anna, you are an amazing young lady! This is a great article, but it doesn’t match your individual greatness!! Shine on, young lady!! You are loved!! ❤️