As a photographer, I fully endorse the old saying “ a picture is worth a thousand words.” That being the case, I could go on for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of words about the incredible week in Maui spent amongst 20 incredible young adult cancer survivors and volunteers that was Athletes 4 Cancer’s Camp Koru 7.
Since that would require a full-length novel, rather than a newsletter, I invite you to step behind the lens to see what I saw – the incredible beauty, determination, and resilience of some amazing human beings determined to live life to the fullest, despite some serious roadblocks thrown up along the way.
A cancer survivor of 13 years myself, I was excited and honored to be a part of this program as camp volunteer and photographer, and I remember thinking nervously on my way out to Maui that I hoped my photos would do the experience justice, that I would be able to adequately capture the beauty and spirit and importance of the journey for the participants. Turns out that was needless worry – we could not have asked for a more beautiful, healing, nurturing environment than the rolling hills, bamboo forests, and warm inviting waters of Maui.
As for the participants – I was, with each passing day, simply stunned by the images appearing on my screen, as I realized how easy they made my job. The excitement and pure joy as they stood up on a surfboard for the first time, stand-up-paddled with sea turtles, or simply goofed around on the beach with new friends radiated pure and true, straight through the lens. I was simply reflecting the incredible beauty and radiance emanating from some remarkable human beings. I saw childlike glee and smiles light up the faces of these young people who have already had to experience much beyond their years.
One of the most amazing aspects of camp was how it brought the participants together – some of them told me they had never personally been in the company of other young adult cancer survivors. Although everyone had different backgrounds, diagnoses, stories and prognoses, it was evident that a special bond formed between them in a very short period of time, but will undoubtedly last a lifetime. Thinking back to my cancer diagnosis at age 19, my heart was filled with happiness that everyone at Camp Koru had received and embraced, with open arms, such a special opportunity.
As a certified scuba diving instructor and underwater photographer who has had the good fortune to live, dive, surf and play in various oceans worldwide, I have long known the healing power of the water. To bear witness to my fellow survivors experiencing this – some of them for the first time – well, in this instance pictures ARE truly worth a thousand words! The warm waters of Maui carried us as we stood tall on the surf boards, supported us as we swam with sea turtles, and blessed us with traditional Hawaiian prayers. We probably did more in and on the water in the space of a week than many people have the chance to do in their entire lifetimes – surfing, stand up paddling, snorkeling, whale watching, outrigger canoeing – each day was packed in from sunup to sundown and I for one went to sleep blissfully exhausted each night.
Before we turned in each night, we all gathered around the campfire for tiki time – a chance to slow down, breathe deep, gaze up at the stars, and reflect upon the amazing experiences, achievements, realizations and discoveries of the day. Connecting and reconnecting – with our peers, as fellow cancer survivors – with ourselves, as human beings, with all of our struggles, challenges, imperfections, conquests, victories, smiles, tears, sadness and joy. We laughed, we cried, we hugged, we surfed our brains out – and I think we all left feeling just a little bit lighter. Some of us back to jobs, others back to school, and yet others back to treatment. But despite the geographic distance which now separates us, we remain united as an “ohana,” strengthened by this unexpected consequence of the curveball life threw us. And for this, I say – MAHALO! ALOHA!
“Faces of survivorship” – 5253, 6473, 5327, 4896, 4792, 6463