We Talk About Cancer, But We Can Still Make You Smile: Testimonials from Camp Koru

By: Tonia Farman

For each one of you who has ever given a dime to Athletes 4 Cancer, thank you. It has transformed lives. Here’s a quick reminder of what you’ve done. 

 I see your donations at work every time a survivor stands up on a surfboard with their post-cancer body; every time a survivor plucks up the courage to share their cancer story around the campfire; every time I read testimonials from Camp Koru alumni.

KORU_TKraftLeboe_AO0W2910-LRReading testimonials from our camps makes me smile, cry (with happiness) and laugh. I hope it will do the same for you. Here are some of the latest testimonials we’ve received from our 2015 camps:

I was feeling stuck in a rut after treatment. Going to Camp Koru tossed me out of that rut into the ocean! The supportive community that was around me helped me to relax deeply and challenge myself! I returned home feeling peaceful, invigorated, and loved. –Star

Everything about Camp Koru is beautiful. Beautiful Maui, the ocean, the surf, and the people who exude a beautiful, peaceful, positive healing environment for the campers. The best thing about Camp Koru is there’s no pressure. No pressure to share stories, until you’re ready, no pressure to surf if your body achy. As an introvert, I felt comfortable in my own skin from the minute I arrived. That doesn’t happen often. The staff is laid back, witty, and caring. The food is out-of-this-world. Life long friends were made, sleeping under the stars, on a beach in Maui. How much better can it get? Camp Koru was a time for me to heal, reflect, and finally move forward from my cancer diagnosis and treatment. –Mino

I met so many incredible cancer survivors and cancer survivors at Camp Koru.  Their friendship is what I value more than anything else. –Scuba

I made some lasting friendships, thrilled to the stunning natural beauty of Maui, got to surf and SUP and try some new things, and was surrounded by love and support and understanding for a full week. It was invigorating and rejuvenating, and it gave me strength to move forward. –Ripley

Koru was the positive force I needed to help me through treatment for triple negative breast cancer. As a surfer, I was crushed to be out of the water over a year and, though I barely had strength to stand up with lymphedema at 5 weeks post-surgery, having the help and support of the Koru Camp 6 Ohana fellow survivors was an essential step. –Koa

IMG_1176 (2)Thank you to all the donations, support, guidance counselors, and all those who helped make this trip become such a life-altering trip. I now have upwards of 20 new friends thanks to this camp. I would do anything for them and welcome them to my home as part of my family. –Renegade

I attended Camp Koru’s surf/SUP camp in Maui. What an amazing experience! It’s been a dream of mine to learn to surf and travel to Hawaii, and I never thought a cancer diagnosis was the thing that was going to bring me there. It was a truly unique experience to be able to live out this dream with other survivors who I was so inspired by. Since having this experience it has impacted my life by gaining strength and inspiration from other survivors to continue to live life to it’s fullest. –Flora

These words are proof that Athletes 4 Cancer is achieving what we set out to do: help survivors reclaim their life after cancer! We’re feeding souls and giving inspiration and healing. It’s truly incredible.

You can support us by making a donation here.

Ready! Fire! Aim! is sometimes what you have to do


Ready! Fire! Aim!  Sometimes that’s just how you have to do it for the first time. No one’s done it before. There is no precedent. There are no books or google searches that give you the steps. No YouTube how-to videos.

Taking risks and breaking trail means you might hit some big rocks and unexpected challenges along the way.  Calculated intuition (that’s a thing, right?) helps. I like pickles and yogurt, not together. That helps with the gut, as in… what does your gut tell you? Mine is strong and speaks volumes. I follow it. I also listened to others’ guts. About 300 of them, in fact.

Sounds far from a scientific study on how to run a cancer survivorship retreat, huh? Yup, pretty much. This was the approach for our latest survivorship program, Ohana Mana, designed for cancer survivors who have attended our first survivor retreat, Camp Koru, and seeking a deeper experience that can help them find a great sense of purpose and accountability in all areas of life after cancer.

After running 18 camps of our first survivorship program, Camp Koru, we realized that many survivors needed something to help sustain and build upon the transformation that happened at that camp. Their lives after cancer were kick-started through Camp Koru, and they could use some additional long-term tools to keep that going. Our 300 + camp ambassadors spoke to us, their needs and feedback shaping a new program. There was no how-to for this new program, so we simply listened, and executed.

On September 24, we launched that first Ohana Mana retreat. We were open  with the participants from the beginning:

“This is a pilot retreat. It’s success, as much as your experience, rides on not only how much you put into it, but your input and feedback to help shape it. This is your opportunity to be a part of creating something amazing, long-lasting, and life-changing. Own it.”

This was the first task for the group as they started their journey of creating meaningful and purpose-driven experiences in life after losing that to their disease. When you empower people to take ownership and build something as a group, magic can happen. This was our approach to Ohana Mana. We’ll keep you in the loop as to how it unfolds, but so far, we’ve received great feedback.

There is a stigma in the non-profit world to focus only on what’s safe and working while avoiding risk to appease supporters. Running programs that return proven results is absolutely essential but sometimes you have to take risks to be innovative. And you have to be innovative in order to inspire change in the world. We want to inspire that change, with our supporters hand-in-hand in that success just like our survivors. Thank you for inspiring change in the world with us!

~ Tonia
Executive Director
Athletes 4 Cancer


Camp Koru Set A New Bar for How to Experience the Rest of My Life

By: Serenity Shanklin (“Redwood”)

On the eve of my 35th birthday, I had no idea that my world was about to be flipped upside down and shaken like a snow globe. All of the little things that I felt secure about were all out of place. Like anyone who is young and has a cancer diagnosis, I had instantly leapt out of the shelter of youth. I went from being 34 to 54 overnight.


A few years later, after everything I’ve been through to survive, my illusions about life are gone and I’ve had no choice but to grow up. At first I was simply mortified about what had happened to my body after an extremely invasive and painful surgery that left me with large scars externally and a Frankenstein digestive system that made socializing over food embarrassing. I worried about what I would look like and who would want to date me. I was self-conscious about what I’d been through, my fatigue, and how I was perceived at work. Unfortunately, none of this was misplaced.

Although I was supported and loved by many people, I was judged at work and I lost some friendships. Eventually, I realized that the few people that really loved me and thought that I was awesome for being a cancer survivor were the only people that mattered. I accepted love from a man who is supportive instead of chasing after men that were unreliable. I was discriminated against at work for the last time and I had the guts stand up for myself. I’ve made some really wonderful changes in my life, just in case, life really is short, I’m finally living a life for me. I hate cancer, but this is pretty liberating.

Camp KoruSurviving cancer takes everything you have. At first, I was so exhausted that I had to evaluate the effort anything would take. For instance, if I washed my hair I would not be able to do much for the rest of the day. That way of thinking transcended into everyday life, friendships, work, and activities. Lots of things that I used to enjoy just didn’t make the cut anymore and I couldn’t afford to feel apologetic about it. I had to do things that had a big payback if I was going to do them at all.

So, after my gastric surgery, I decided to do something I never would have done before. I signed up to fly really far away from home by myself, and go hang out with a bunch of complete strangers on surf boards [Camp Koru] in Maui. This gave me something to look forward to as I healed from my surgery, and it motivated me to get stronger so I could do it. I met witty and creative survivors. We had the opportunity to learn about the healing strength of the ocean at Surf Club Maui. We chased after sea turtles on paddle boards, held impromptu photo shoots on the beach, ate shave ice, and slept under the stars. I made a best friend. I felt empowered and gained a new sense of hope. The experience at Camp Koru continues to inspire me and set a new bar for how I want to experience the rest of my life. Taking risks on things that make you happy is what life is all about.

Drop the “T” in “can’T”

SUP Ninja 2

By: Camp Koru Alumna Ninja

Because if you put your mind to it, you can do more then you ever thought was possible. I’m not trying to be cliche or express a motivational motto—and I’m not trying to say that everything’s as easy as just “You can do it; just put your mind into it”—because that’s not true. It takes a lot. It’s hard physically and emotionally. It takes commitment, effort, focus and the acceptance of failure every time. I’ll give you a recent example.

In 2012, I couldn’t even properly stand up and walk on land, but somehow, I signed myself up for a weeklong camp [Camp Koru] to stand up on water on a paddle board. I got there and I said on day one, “Nope, I can’t do this. I don’t know what I was thinking when I signed up for this.”

By the end of the week—after many unplanned falls in the water and amazing support—I was up on the board, balancing and standing up on the water! Yes, I paddling slowly and carefully, but I did it. I got up! I was unsteady and my legs shook uncontrollably, but I was up! I’ve been trying to keep standing up on a SUP board every summer since then, and I would love to report that it’s really easy now, but that’s just not the case. What I CAN say is that every year I’m getting better. I’m gaining a little bit more confidence and there’s definitely no “I can’t do this” mentality. Getting rid of that mentality is the hardest part because the rest you CAN.

Thanks, Athletes 4 Cancer, for helping me be able to say I CAN!

[This blog was originally published on Ninja’s blog.]

2015 Kiteboarding 4 Cancer raises $123,422 for A4C survivorship programming

Kiteboarding 4 Cancer Powered by Patagonia

This year’s Kiteboarding 4 Cancer raised a record $123,422, helping us to fund our 2016 programs! Thank you to everyone who participated, volunteered and contributed in one way or another. This event is a community effort! Here are some of the survivorship programs we have planned for 2016:

[NEW!] Survivorship retreats for metastatic cancer – A new retreat for individuals (and their caregivers) with advanced disease seeking an inspiring, fulfilling experience to enhance quality of life with metastatic cancer.

Camp Koru – Our core outdoor retreat program that empowers young cancer fighters and survivors, ages 18-39, to find healing, achievement, and life renewal through active outdoor experiences in the ocean and the mountains.

Ohana Mana retreats – Our 2nd tier survivorship program for cancer survivors who have attended Camp Koru and are seeking a deeper, profound experience that can help them find a great sense of purpose and accountability in all areas of life after cancer.

A huge thanks to our title sponsor, Patagonia!

Also many many thanks to all of our sponsors!! We could not make KB4C happen without your help!

Cash Sponsors

Cash sponsors allow us to cover critical event expenses so that donations go directly to the cause!

  • Patagonia
  • Iberdrola Renewables
  • Full Sail Brewing
  • Directors Mortgage
  • Cabrinha Kites
  • Ride Engine
  • Tonkin Subaru
  • North Kiteboarding
  • Constellation Associates
  • Native Eyewear
  • Big Winds
  • Naish Kites

In-Kind Sponsors:

These sponsors provide everything from marketing & publicity to great prizes for the kite derby, auctions and fundraising!

  • Dakine
  • Liquid Force Kites
  • Cascade Kiteboarding
  • The Kiteboarder Magazine
  • Kinesys Sun Protection
  • KIND Snacks
  • Vitacoco
  • Hood River Vacation Rentals
  • 2nd Wind Sports
  • Vela Resorts
  • Bob’s Red Mill
  • Oregon Screen Impressions
  • Ahi’s Ohana Catering Co.
  • The Local Grind
  • Coast to Coast Event Services
  • Apple Valley Country Store
  • Arctic Glacier Water
  • Rosauer’s
  • Hood River Hostel

Kiteboard 4 Cancer Race StartKiteboarding 4 Cancer Derby Race start from the chopper
Kite Derby Race Start Athletesfromtower-AJ1R1687 kids-podium_AJ1R2929 kiters_AJ1R1849 launching_GSZ3322 podium-AJ1R3093 racer-meeting-AJ1R9318 racestart-AJ1R9900 sundaypodium-AJ1R3830 taikodrums_DSC2861 team2ndwind-AJ1R2787



Athletes 4 Cancer brings on Survivorship Program & Outreach Coordinator

mindyMindy Buchanan sent me a text message early one Saturday May morning asking if I still had the position of Program Coordinator still open at Athletes 4 Cancer. I did – it was going on 4 months still unable to find the right person. I wasn’t sure why she was asking, and surely didn’t understand why so early Saturday morning. Well, it just so happened that the grant for Mindy’s position at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Adolescent & Young Adult (AYA) Oncology program was about up and Mindy was exploring her options.

I had worked with Mindy for the past four years while she was at The Knight (Cancer Institute), referring patients to and from each others’ programs. It was a great collaborative relationship — Mindy would send patients to apply to Athletes 4 Cancer’s Camp Koru sessions, and we would refer survivors back to the Knight’s Adolescent & Young Adult survivorship program for ongoing support groups. I knew our participants were in good hands at the Knight, and the Knight’s support of Athletes 4 Cancer’s camps was a huge boost to our program credibility.

Mindy was the wizard behind that AYA Oncology program, with strong support from one of the leading AYA Oncologists in the country, Dr. Brandon Hayes-Lattin, leading Psychosocial Researcher, Dr. Rebecca Block, and AYA Pediatric Oncologist, Dr. Sue Lindemulder. Mindy’s outreach models for academic medical centers have been replicated by several AYA programs around the country. Mindy also has a presence within the national AYA Movement as the chair of the networking sub-committee, and planning committee member for the National Critical Mass: The Young Adult Cancer Alliance Conference.

As you can see…. she’s kind of a big deal.

So when Mindy asked if she could apply for my Program Coordinator position at Athletes 4 Cancer that Saturday morning, I asked back… “When can you start?”

After some formal interviews (or pow-wows over shared visions), I am thrilled to announce the new addition of Mindy Buchanan as Program & Outreach Coordinator for Athletes 4 Cancer.  Mindy’s ten years of program and development experience will serve as a tremendous asset to Athletes 4 Cancer as we move forward to develop innovative programming for underserved areas of survivorship in young adults.

As a native Oregonian, she enjoys running, hiking, whitewater kayaking, reading, and playing with her dog. Mindy also suffers from a serious case wanderlust. If you ask her nicely, she may just tell you about her six hour round trip beer run through the Austrian countryside; singing along to songs from The Sound of Music was required.

If you apply for one of our programs at Athletes 4 Cancer, you most likely will talk to Mindy. Welcome Mindy!

“Kiteboarding Brought Me Back to Life in Every Way Possible”

By: Brianna Hirsch

Chance often plays an all too important role in life. It was chance—and the generosity of a total stranger—that brought me to Kiteboarding 4 Cancer.

One evening last summer, I was kiting near my home in North Carolina when I crashed. My kite deflated, and I had to be pulled onto shore by a friend. He happened to know the woman sitting at the dock we landed on and she kindly invited us in to warm up. After talking with her for hours, I began to share my cancer experience with her.

I am the fourth generation in my family to be diagnosed with cancer. On April 10, 2011, ten years to the day of my mother’s diagnosis, I got a taste of just how precious life is. I was having my junior prom dress fitted and suddenly passed out. Hours later, I learned I had a massive tumor sitting on my heart, filling up my whole chest and crushing everything between my heart and my throat. Had I not passed out, the tumor would have crushed my trachea in another day or two.

My world turned upside down and came to a grinding halt.

The next day, doctors pulled a quart of fluid from my heart and told me I had cancer: Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

The next two years were very long, as I underwent various courses of chemotherapy, antibiotics, steroids, hair loss, spinal taps, blood transfusions, bone marrow extracts, pneumonia, collapsed lungs, and other physical complications and breakdowns.

Brianna KiteboardingThen I discovered kiteboarding.

To my and my family’s complete and utter surprise, the Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted me about, well, “making a wish.”

It was on a 10-day Make-A-Wish trip to Greece that I happened upon an ad for a kiteboarding school. I had never even heard of the sport, yet I instantly knew I wanted to do it. For the next seven days, I took lessons in the crystal blue waters of the Aegean Sea.  The moment I got up on the board, I knew this sport was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Kiteboarding brought me back to life in every way possible.

It gave me the feeling of being in entire control of my body. To go from no power during cancer to suddenly full power over my body was the most thrilling experience for me. Never before had I realized this potential.

KiteboardingWhen I heard about Athletes 4 Cancer’s Kiteboarding 4 Cancer, I knew I had to be there. My passion, cancer experience and desire to help other survivors come together in this one incredibly inspiring event. That’s why I had such a desire to go last summer when I crashed my kite.

That women that invited me in to warm up, the one I talked with for hours, she was so moved by my story that she instantly offered to help me get to Kiteboarding 4 Cancer. Her generosity gave me the opportunity to participate in an event that has changed my life, and I can’t wait to get back for a second year.

To learn more about Kiteboarding 4 Cancer, or to donate, click here.