Kevin Fern has lived in Redondo Beach California for the last 13 years, and recently started walking across the country with an IV pole, to raise awareness and money for childhood cancer camps.
His journey started in California and will end in Boston; this week Fern is walking through New Mexico.
Fern is a survivor of childhood cancer and was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 17, when he underwent what he described as, “burning chemotherapy, the skin actually burns as the drip enters your body.” Every other week he endured 2 to 3 hours chemotherapy in the 80s for 6 months. It did not cure his cancer.
He said it was very painful and due to that treatment he was attached to an IV pole non-stop, taking it with him everywhere he went. His cancer returned at age 18 but said by the time he had reached age 20 he was finally completely free of cancer thanks to radiation therapy. “When I was finally disconnected from the IV, I felt free and I was able to go home.”
Being a survivor of childhood cancer is not Fern’s sole motivation for going on this journey. Fern said he went on the pilgrimage known as El Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James. This pilgrimage is very old and very popular. It dates back to the middle ages and holds significance because it is said that St. James, brother of Jesus, was buried in Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.
The most popular route starts in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France and ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, 500 miles away. The road takes pilgrims over the Pyrenees mountains, past various vineyards and through forests.
Fern walked the Road to Santiago in the form of a traditional pilgrimage. He said, the pilgrimage was “very personal.” And while he was there the most important thing he learned about himself is that he loves to walk. His walk across the country started as just that, a walk because he learned on a spiritual level that walking brings him joy. He later became inspired to dedicate his walk to children dealing with cancer to raise awareness for childhood cancer camps. Back home in California, Fern volunteers as a childhood cancer camp counselor.
With the IV pole as his constant walking companion. “It’s my life and the symbology of my cancer story, but it’s not just about my story,” he said. “It’s about people and it’s about children.” Fern says the walk with the IV pole is also the first time that anyone has ever walked a great distance with an IV pole.
Once Fern’s walk is finished, the pole will be left in the Children’s Hospital in Boston as a symbol of solidarity and hope. Attached to it are bracelets with the names of various children that Fern has either met or was inspired by their families to think of them.
Originally, the mission of this walk was to stop at every children’s hospital in every major city on the way to let families and children know about the benefits of childhood cancer camps. As it turns out, according to Fern, it is difficult to set up time with the hospitals to make this happen.
He said that hospitals around the United States tell children with cancer and their families about childhood cancer camps but they have a vested interest in doing fundraisers for themselves and not necessarily the camps. Hospitals focus on the physical health of the patients, whereas childhood cancer camp is focused on the mental health of the children. It is an opportunity for sick kids to act and feel like a normal kid for a whole week, and to make friends with other kids who are in similar situations.
Fern is walking to raise awareness and money for camps all over the country—but he also has a day job. He owns a software company in California. He has been doing software consulting for over 20 years. He is working from the road because he has estimated his walk will take him 7 months.
Fern starts each day in his RV. He parks it approximately 25 miles away from his last walking stop and then walks the distance to his RV each day. He said he is 50 now and not interested in being out there roughing it, especially in the Mohave desert. At the end of each day he sleeps in his RV and completes work for his business over the internet.
He has also started a grant program that allows any children’s cancer camp to apply for a grant. The grant is awarded in the form of a check which is given to the camps with the most needs. Fern is on foot to raise awareness, but also to see with his own eyes the needs of these groups across the country. He contacts the camps in each state he visits and in some cases is able to arrange what he calls “Walk and Roll with Kevin’s IV Pole.” For this event children who are able get invited to walk with Fern, in a safe place to help promote the local camps.
Camp Enchantment, at Manzano Mountain Retreat, here in New Mexico met with Fern but they were unable to organize the walk due to schedule conflicts. Camp Enchantment has been here for 30 years. The idea is to give the children, fighting to live, an opportunity to have a normal existence, even if it’s only for a short time. Kids across the state age 7 to 17 are welcome to join the camp, along with siblings and cancer survivors.
There are also eight counselors-in-training and another 52 volunteer staff including doctors, former camp attendees, counselors, artists, and many activity coordinators. Medical staff are onsite at camp 24 hours a day. For more information visit campenchantment.org.
If you would like to follow Fern’s story as he continues his journey, visit kevinsivpole.com. He is also on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, all under the handle “Kevin’s IV Pole.”