The Seany Foundationby Leorah Gavidor May 1, 2019
As a teenager with Ewing sarcoma, Sean Robins decided he wanted to start a foundation for other teenagers going through cancer treatments.
“There wasn’t really anything for teenagers to do while they stayed in the hospital. Teens in treatment will do what they do at home—isolate themselves, stay in bed, retreat inward. Sean wanted to help kids his age,” Sean’s mom, Amy, explained.
“Almost every kid who has cancer in San Diego goes to Rady’s Children’s Hospital. It’s a community.”
Though Sean passed away in 2006, when Rady’s opened a new upgraded oncology unit in 2010, the Robins family donated the Seany Teen Lounge. Gaming consoles, big screen t.v.’s, comfy furniture—
“Something tangible that we could do for others,” Amy said. At that point the foundation had already been donating money to research for several years, as well as endowing a pediatric oncology fellow at UC San Diego and funding a clinical research associate at Rady to sign kids up for clinical trials.
Then another opportunity came along. When the American Cancer Society cut all funding for the free camp programs, The Seany Foundation decided to take over local operations in 2013. The foundation now provides free camp programs for kids with cancer and their siblings, ages 4-17. They additionally provide family camp for families with a parent with cancer and also a family bereavement camp for those who have lost a loved one to cancer. They host a total of six sessions throughout the year, including day camp near Balboa Park and retreat-style getaways in the woods of Julian.
Camp participants can take part in a zipline, a challenge course, a rock-climbing wall, archery, hiking trails, a game room, a tree house and slide, basketball, tennis, meadow games, playgrounds, tetherball, horseshoes, arts and crafts, campfires and swimming.
Camp gives kids with cancer a chance to just be kids for a little while, focusing on other things besides their illness. For siblings and families, camp addresses the realities of living with a brother or sister, mom or dad who has cancer.
“Siblings experience so much guilt, and they also experience a lack of attention because parents are focused on the illness. They might not have a chance to focus on their interests or their future—like college. We work to address the psychological aspects.”
“With yoga and massage at Family Camp too—we want to make sure there’s some time for feeling good,” Amy added. “And medical staff are on site so patients can relax and know that care is nearby if needed,” especially at ROC (resident oncology camp).
“So many campers return to become counselors year after year, it’s a whole family,” Amy said.
That’s how the idea came about for The Seany Foundation to host “Tribute to Life” events for members of the foundation family. Camper Kimi was the first, in January 2019. She passed away earlier in the month from neuroblastoma; she was almost a teenager.
“Everyone who knew Kimi loved her. She was a special little girl, diagnosed at age three. But she never questioned anything. She just went through her chemo and treatments but was always happy. She was even on t.v.—on ‘Say Yes to the Dress.’ She did karaoke with the hospital and camp staff,” Amy laughed. “We decided we wanted to have a celebration of her life.”
The Robins family is Jewish, The Seany Foundation is non-denominational. Sean’s dad thought the Jewish tradition of shiva, where relatives and friends come together to laugh and cry and tell stories about the recently passed, would be a fitting memorial for Kimi.
A local brewery donated space, and the Seany Foundation invited everyone who knew Kimi to come remember her. The noisy, interactive sing-a-long which made everyone in the crowd smile was a fitting tribute.
“It’s something we would like to do for our campers, if their families would like, in addition to anything the family chooses to do,” said Amy.
“We will provide a safe space for families, campers, camp counselors, TSF staff, and any volunteers who would like to join us in honoring the individuals’ memory through shared stories, tears, and laughter.”