Cancer isn’t something that ends when treatment does. Yes, the cancer cells may be gone, but the effects are not. Some may be physical scars, other emotional. There may be entire lifestyle changes, and huge adjustments to overcome once you’re out of the hospital.
A common misconception is this belief that once you’re hair starts to grow back, the scars begin to heal and the chemotherapy stops, you’re OK, you’re back to normal, you’re alive – so live. Adjusting to life after cancer can take many routes, but the most important piece to recovering is a support system.
Going to camp, arriving in Maui and living by the ocean for a week takes you away from the expectations. Not only the expectations others have for you to get back to a normal routine, but the expectations you have for yourself. It’s not uncommon for survivors to want to jump right back into their life, only to see that they can’t. Maybe what they wanted before treatments isn’t the same now, or maybe there are a lot of things they have yet to deal with. Some survivors take the route of leaving their experience and cancer behind them, while others may use it as a catapult to change the world. There is no right or wrong way to live after cancer. But I think everyone at camp was able to find out how to live, and whom they want or need beside them while they do it.
No matter how long it has been since the last treatment, there are always moments of fear, anger, anxiety an insecurity. Cancer survivors become this whole new person, encountered this entire life change, without wanting it. After cancer there is a lot of learning. Learning who you are, who you want to be, and how you’re going to get there. We have to learn to live again. We have to allow other people to see us, all of us. The pieces that are broken, the pieces that are missing, the pieces we want to get back.. and the pieces we’re afraid might never come back.
Being at camp has this ability to surround you with people WHO GET IT. They understand the fears, anger, anxiety and insecurity. People who get who you are and the struggles that may come next. No matter what you go through, you can easily feel alone. You can isolate yourself from the world, and feel as if no one understands. Although everyone’s experiences are completely unique, there is someone, many people out there who get it.
It is extraordinary how quickly friendships form at camp. It’s amazing how easily it is to talk to someone who understands who you are before you even say hello. I remember talking to one of the campers on the first night. Trying to get to know myself as a survivor, but also trying to get to know this other person. Feeling insecure because my story was not the same, and that I had been blessed with 23 years of surviving while this person was still in the middle of a battle. Yet, in the end… we were so similar. Our diagnosis’s were different, yet we had the same dreams for the future, “planning-centered” mindsets, and hopes to change the world. We both wanted to get back to ‘normal,’ whatever that was, and we were both able to see how the next few days could change us forever.
To be able to see that kind of thing happen over and over throughout the next few days was unbelievable. I think this rings true in any circumstance where you allow yourself to trust others with your story and your heart, but at camp it’s more than that. At camp you find these pieces you didn’t realize were missing because you never actually had them to begin with. You gain this amazing amount of support and love from people who were strangers less than a week ago.
“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other” –Audrey Hepburn
There will always be pictures, and videos, memories and laughs… But none of those can ever replace the people. The amazing friendships made at camp cannot be captured in words or pictures, only with really being there. It’s not often you can spend a week with a group of strangers and leave with an entire new family, best friends and soul mates.
In the end, we will always have each other. Everyone has been pushed to the limit by life, by cancer. There are still points where we want to break, where we feel like we might no matter how hard we try not to. There are times we feel so separated from the others that you’re certain they’ve forgotten. But then you have an amazing day and the first thing you want to do is text Gecko, or Red Cloud or Touchdown. There are times when you’re sitting somewhere and you randomly hear a Disney song and instantly want a smoothie. The crazy looks you get for mentioning that you need to tell Gemini and Honu after you saw a seaturtle bumper sticker. Those moments connect us. They make us feel whole and remind us that we are not alone and that we have each other.
Cancer took a lot from all of us. Beating cancer gave us life, hope and family; A group of people that we will hold on to for the rest of our lives.
Athletes for Cancer’s survivorship camps helped me find WHO I AM, and learn that there are amazing people out there who will love me for me, if i give them a chance.
Missing my o’hana, and craving a smoothie!