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PGA TOUR Wives visit Camp Genesis during John Deere Classic

Camp Genesis counselors dance with campers.

July 11, 2013

By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR staff

There are some clubs nobody wants to be a part of.  In a way, their mere existence speaks volumes to the brittle ways of the world. But when a life-altering curve ball is thrown, one such club has become a soul salvation.

On Wednesday of the John Deere Classic, members of the PGA TOUR Wives Association spent the day at Camp Genesis, hosted in conjunction with Gilda’s Club and Genesis Health, a special place for kids whose lives have been forever changed by cancer.

In memory of Gilda Radner, the actress who captured the hearts of television and stage audiences the world over before losing the battle to ovarian cancer in 1989, Gilda’s Club is an emotional and social support community for people living with cancer.  Gilda’s Club was founded by her husband Gene Wilder and friends.    

Lee Presnell, wife of 2013 PGA TOUR rookie Alistar, works on a sun safety bracelet with a camper.

Down a dirt road just off the famed Mississippi River, a remote site in the woods known as Camp Genesis is home for a week at a time to hundreds of kids touched by cancer.  At this free camp, there are no signs of the dreaded “C” word. There are no fatigued children, no indications of chemo.  At first glance, nothing says these kids are living with the reality of cancer.

The resilience of a kid is lost on no one. Kids dance from sun up to sun down on a summer’s day tune without a white flag.  It is here that kids steady their ships and tend to emotional wounds inflicted by watching someone they love dearly, a parent, sibling or other family member, battle cancer.

“Many times, the kid who has a family member with cancer gets left out a little bit. Camp Genesis is for them,” said Zach Klipsch, Camp Director.  “Cancer treatment is for the one with cancer. But, cancer affects the whole family, not just one person. These kids get to come together and find other kids going through similar stuff that they can share backgrounds and stories with.”

The message at Camp Genesis is simple; you’re not alone. At a young age in a very big world amidst a very tough time, it’s here where three words resonate - your life matters.

“The kids come in, do a lot of the conversing and take in a lot of the coping skills,” said Klipsch. “They’ll  say, ‘Wait a minute….your mom has cancer? Well, my mom has cancer, too.’ How many times does that conversation happen at school? So, many times, these kids are out there without anybody to talk to about this. They kind of lock it away.”

“We’re here to support them in their week to get away,” said Lauren Gates, wife of PGA TOUR member Bobby. “This camp is a way for them to see that they are not the only ones going through this hard time. They may very well make a life-long friend here. I hope they enjoy us half as much as we enjoy being here with them.”

“Having the PGA TOUR wives come out is great because the kids can understand that  there’s more involved than the other kids going through a similar life experience,” said Klipsch. “They see they have other people who support them, even outside of this community. The kids love it. I think it’s a wonderful way for the PGA TOUR to support kids. To get this in the middle of Iowa is pretty amazing.”

Sam Robinson is a 10 year-old from nearby Bettendorf. In his bid to come to terms with three cases of cancer in his family, he is visiting Camp Genesis for a second time.  While watching both grandmothers fight the good fight, including one who lost her battle on May 19, Sam’s mother was diagnosed herself.

“I talk to other kids about hope,” Robinson said. “This camp teaches that. It helps me keep away whatever bad thoughts I may have. It makes me feel better about what’s going on around me. My parents really wanted me to come…and I did, too.”

“Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to,” Radner once said. But today, with her clubs all over the United States and Canada, this is an elite club she would be glad to know is around.
“It’s always something,” was Radner’s trademark quip.

Be it from a day with the PGA TOUR Wives Association or from the creation of a lifelong friendship, Gilda’s Club is something.   It’s the comfort of knowing that we’re remembered, considered and understood. It’s the tough acknowledgment that pain and suffering is real – inside as well as out, even when it’s the others with the diagnosis.

It is something. It’s something that always reassures us; my life matters.   

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