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.

Alive365! Helps Survivors Learn to Live, Celebrate Life

By: Tonia Farman

It’s National Cancer Survivors Day, and I believe strongly that survivorship should be celebrated—because there is life after cancer. It can be tough to ask a survivor, someone who has gone through such a traumatic and challenging experience, to celebrate survivorship. Many of you reading this blog have survived cancer yourself, or know someone who has, and understand how difficult it can be to “celebrate” (Woo-hoo! Yehaw!) life after it feels like it crushed you. FunBy celebrate, I mean to pursue and relish in things that inspire you, to seek support when you need it, to find peace and an appreciation for life, and anything else that inspires you. It’s defining your life after cancer, not letting cancer define you. It’s choosing to live—to be alive—not merely survive. That’s the essence of Athletes 4 Cancer’s Alive365! Campaign, an effort to help you send a young cancer survivor to A4C’s Camp Koru so they can learn to celebrate life. (I’d encourage you to get involved. It’s easier than you think!) To start, claim your “survivorship day.” It could be the anniversary of the day they were diagnosed or the day doctors deemed you cancer free. For others, it could be the day their loved one lost or won their battle. You “give up” that day and show cancer who’s boss by fundraising for Alive365! Next, you pick a challenge—anything you want (knitting 10 hats, entering a writing contest, hiking a mountain, doing a 2-minute plank, etc.)—and see it through right up to your survivorship day. This challenge shows your commitment to fundraising, and along the way, your friends and family can track your progress and support your efforts to send a cancer survivor to A4C’s Camp Koru. See how A4C alumni Kelly and Marisa did it! We’d love to have you consider taking part. Now get out there and celebrate survivorship!

How will you leave your legacy?

Eight years ago today, the unimaginable happened that shook our family, our friends, and changed our lives forever. On June 5th, 2007, my 19-year old brother passed away from Leukemia.  What followed was something no one planned… it just happened. Athletes 4 Cancer was born.

When someone passes at the young, future-filled age of 19, the word “legacy” does not first come to mind. We barely form identities at 19, let alone establish any footing in this world. It usually all changes when you’re 30 again anyway. We definitely don’t think about how we’re going to leave this world at 19… we’re just entering it!

Scott’s “legacy” came in the form of the hundreds of cancer survivors who have attended an Athletes 4 Cancer retreat or program. I remember Scott telling me once as he lay in his hospital bed at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, “I just want to do good things for people.” That stuck with me so hard, I claimed the title of “Director of Good Things” over the standard “Executive Director.” As the organization grew, Scott’s legacy extended, impacting a greater number of lives affected by cancer each year.

When I attend one of our survivorship retreat programs, leaving the world with some sort of “legacy” is a hot topic around the campfire. In fact, it’s one of the most pressing thoughts on  survivors’ minds: “What if I die tomorrow? What did I contribute to the world? Who’s life did I impact? Did I do any good? Can I rest in peace feeling good about my life?”

Many cancer survivors wake up every day and wonder if they are going to live another day, week, month or year. And many of them, through programs like Athletes 4 Cancer and others, discover how to start living with a new perspective of living with positive intention and leaving this world in a better place. We can all learn from them.

Start living your legacy now. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Treat others with compassion and respect. Listen. Give selflessly of yourself in ways that benefit others who really need it. Volunteer. Donate something to a local charity. Wake up every day and find a way to leave this world in a better place than the day before. You never know when your legacy will begin.

~ Tonia Farman
Director of Good Things
Athletes 4 Cancer