When Tonia asked if I could capture camp through words, i was ecstatic. I love to write and for the first time i was really ready to talk about cancer. When it came down to breaking the day-to-day events of camp, i was stuck. I couldn’t explain the pieces of camp. So, There will be three parts to this blogging rampage. The first will break down my pre-camp thought process. The second will explain how camp creates this amazing support system, this irreplaceable O’HANA. And the Last will be my reflection. The true insight into how i am the person I am because of this organization. So, here goes nothing.
When you’re preparing for camp there are so may things running through your mind. Am I ready for this? What if I can’t swim? I am not an ‘athlete’? How do I talk about being a survivor? Will people get it? And then once you’re there and you realize your whole world has changed you think; ‘what am I going to do without these people around me every day?’
Camp isn’t about the day-to-day challenges, it is about a week long journey that opens your mind and heart. Being a part of the Athletes for Cancer Survivorship camps has hands-down changed my life.
When I saw the sign for the first camp back in February 2011 (for the April camp) I thought to myself ‘I guess being a cancer survivor has its benefits… Vacation? Ok!’ Once I thought about the camp more and looked into the organization, I realized that this was not a vacation… Rather an experience; one that I wasn’t sure if I even wanted. Being a cancer survivor in your twenties isn’t easy… Even though I have been a survivor for 23 of my 24 years of life, it is something I never dealt with.
So I almost backed out. I wasn’t the ‘athlete’ I used to be, and I wasn’t ready to deal with my issues. I didn’t need to be an athlete to be there but I did need to learn how to live, and truly survive.
The point of the survivorship camps is to harness confidence and LIFE through water sports. The entire point of camp is to learn how to live again. There are opportunities to test yourself to find how far you can push yourself again. For a lot of the campers the idea of camp and surfing (especially when you have never been in the water before) can be daunting. But these lessons are not to push you back into shape, they are to allow you to see your potential and learn what life has to offer. I cannot begin to express how amazing it is to get on a board and be able to paddle 3.2 miles at the end of the week. Or ride in a wave for the first time. Just one of many things that is beyond words.
When you see the website or the flyer or hear people talk about camp, it sounds too good to be true. The things is, there isn’t a quick ‘back-to-normal’ after cancer. Mostly because cancer changes you. Cancer has a way of tearing you down and making you feel weak, while surviving gives you this strength and need to be back to who you were. Being a cancer survivor sticks with you. No matter how hard you try to forget that you had it, or forget what you went through, it’s always there. Often as YAs we want to be back to who we were before… Being in Maui with other people who ‘understand’ gives you a chance to learn a new normal. To learn who you are as a survivor. Maui offers the chance to separate from your ‘cancer’ world long enough to begin rebuilding who you want to be.
Athletes for Cancer takes a group of strangers to a beautiful island in the Pacific and gives them LIFE. Confidence. Hope. Faith. And an O’HANA.
Maui is one of the most beautiful places in the world. And going there as a cancer survivor, for this camp makes you feel like anything is possible. You’re separated from the real world, the medication, the IV polls, the doctors and scans and stigmas. You’re given a week to live on this island where you can’t help but learn to believe again. Not just in the beauty of the world, but in yourself, in your abilities and in those around you.
When you’re at camp it’s important to feel comfortable, yet challenged. That’s how you grow. At the first camp I was surrounded by people I knew. Yet none of them really knew my WHOLE story. I had never truly explored the ocean (it’s far too cold in Oregon), and I had never tested my confidence, because let’s face it… I didn’t really have any. I was challenged far beyond anything I had ever imagined. I grew. I succeeded. I learned to have faith in myself and in those around me.
I changed when I first saw that flyer. I started to see myself as a survivor. Every notion I had about A4C changed the instant I was in the water. Every notion I had about myself changed the instant i stepped off of the plane. Back in April, I was very skeptical! How could it be possible for a group of strangers to head to Maui to learn how to surf, SUP and… LIVE. Leaving in November I was able to see that camp not only changed my life, but gave other’s their lives back.