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Giving child caregivers a 'Space To Breathe'

During a five day retreat, the Dempsey Center offers teenagers a chance to escape the realities of cancer. Each child invited to the camp is a caregiver of either a sibling or a parent who has been diagnosed.

NOBLEBORO, Maine — Going through the formative teenage years is a wild ride full of hormones, anxiety, and overwhelming uncertainty about who you are. Now add the role of "caretaker" to that plate.

"I think a lot of these kids are old for their age because they kind of have to be stepping up for responsibilities a lot of teenagers are not," said Kailie Sullivan, the Youth and Family Services Manager for the Dempsey Center in Lewiston, which founded the camp "Space To Breathe."

"Space To Breathe really gives them the opportunity to take a break from that, step back and really do some reflection and connect with other peers who know what it’s like to take on that extra responsibility, and really find themselves," said Sullivan.

At the five-day and four-night camp based at Camp Kieve in Nobleboro, teenagers tackle adventures like whitewater rafting, hiking, and camping.

"When you’re crashing through a class four rapid you’re right there in the moment; you’re seeing, you're hearing, you’re smelling right there in the moment. You're not in the past, you're not in the future," said Dr. Rod Nadeau, one of the guides on the trip.

"When our time orientation is in the past that’s associated with more of a depressed state of mind. When we are in the future it’s more of an anxious type of state. So that’s the beauty of the adventure, it puts us in the moment where the human possibility is at its greatest; when we are in the moment."

Each day ends with a campfire, where conversations about the challenges of cancer are encouraged.

"There’s definitely a lot of emotional work being done here, but it’s wrapped up in a big ball of fun," said Sullivan, admitting that there are tears during the week along with laughter.

At the end of the week, the teenagers say their goodbyes and swap contact information, knowing they have a larger support system now than what's at home waiting for them.

To learn more about the programs offered at the Dempsey Center, click here.

To register for the center's largest fundraising event, The Dempsey Challenge, click here.

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