On October 30, twelve cancer survivors between the ages of 19 and 40 arrived at Camp Oluwalu on Maui’s west shore to experience the Athletes for Cancer Survivorship Program.
Their journeys originated from eight states and two countries — New York, Ontario, and Florida, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington, Phoenix, and Colorado. Their cancers: Testicular, Hodgkins Lymphoma (three), Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Glioblastoma Brain Cancer, Retinoblastoma, and Breast Cancer (3). Three were still undergoing different treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.
A4C fighters and survivors who come to camp must arrive with a Power Name. Power names describe where you are in your life; it gives power to its owner and power to the name. Power Names are unique to Athletes for Cancer Ambassadors who attend camp, and you just might have to attend one to get one.
At first campfire, everyone gets the low down on the schedule for the week. Then it’s somewhat of an open mic. Some talk about their cancer, some just talk about surfing being on their bucket list. Many cancers are recent. Some are still fighting it, and can’t say they are yet “cancer-free.” Some are scared for life. Some are scared of death. Some seem to have no fear. They’re just chillin. All of them are at camp to meet others with similar struggles and frustrations attempting to live life after cancer.
Day 1: The journey begins. The first day is all about fear, anxiety and overcoming it. Fear of getting in the water, fear of waves, fear of sea life, fear of camp food, fear of vulnerability, and fear of these strangers with which they are spending the next five days. We overcome some, not all, of these fears on day one. The waves are perfectly friendly and non-intimidating for everyone to catch a wave somehow, whether it’s standing, sitting, laying down, paddle or no paddle!
Finding comfort and confidence. We continue getting comfortable in the water, both in surfing and standup paddling. Everyone tries both, and some are already finding their confidence in one over the other.
Day 3: Exploration Day. We take a break from the surf for some extra curricular activities that have secured themselves as tradition at camp. We start the day early with a magical ocean cultural experience with the Kihei Canoe Club on the south shore of the island. We learn the theme and meaning of ‘Ohana from Kimokeo himself, a Hawaiian cultural icon, paddler, and just all-around humble and real human being.
‘Ohana, at its most basic meaning, is “family” in Hawaiian. However, in hawaiian culture, and in our program, it reaches beyond blood relations to refer to any group of people with a common bond that treats and respects eachother as FAMILY.
Our off day has become a favorite day at camp. This day is fun, empowering, educational, sometimes surprising, sometimes challenging, but always an instrumental day during the journey at camp.
Day 4: More water time. Look at that determination!
Day 5: Final Challenge Day. We take everything we learned throughout the week and do something different. Our last day is always a surprise and it definitely was this time! The great thing about the ocean is that it is dynamic, ever moving and changing moods. It’s a theme and message that is ingrained into our minds on the first day and throughout camp. Be aware of your surroundings, the elements, and the conditions that mother nature controls and changes at any given moment.
At the end of this week-long journey, there is an incredible connection amongst the group that only cancer survivors can understand. They overcame challenges and accomplished some things they never thought they could do. They formed relationships with peers who can empathize with their cancer struggles, while celebrating with them as they catch their first wave.
Individually, survivors carry themselves with a new confidence and strength. They stand a little taller, walk prouder, and laugh more. They leave camp with a renewed spirit, and a revitalized sense of self and purpose to take ownership of their physical and emotional well-being. The hope and goal is for survivors to integrate this success and confidence they discovered at camp back into their daily lives. Their new outlooks truly help dilute the stigma of “cancer” in the community and inspire other survivors to embrace life in the same way.