What could be better for healing for a cancer survivor than surfing, music, art?

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Changing Fate partners with Athletes 4 Cancer to put ukuleles in the hands of Camp Koru participants for healing through musical art.

CHNGNF8.org, or “Changing Fate”, is a nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is dedicated to providing cancer survivors and their caregivers free access to the tools they need to communicate what it means to survive, through art. Athletes 4 Cancer inspires life renewal through the healing powers of outdoor adventure in the ocean and the mountains. Together, the two organizations are uniting their gifts of survivor empowerment to impact 60 young lives at Athletes 4 Cancer’s Camp Koru in Maui, Hawaii, starting next week.

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Changing Fate reached out to Athletes 4 Cancer with their 1,000 Ukes of Light campaign, which seeks to put a ukulele in the hands of cancer survivors and their caregivers, as a means to promote wellness, healing, and self-expression. Recognizing that surfing and ukuleles go hand-in-hand, Changing Fate found Athletes 4 Cancer’s Camp Koru Surf & SUP Camp for Cancer Survivors to be the perfect home for ukuleles to help change lives.

Changing Fate donated 30 ukuleles to Athletes 4 Cancer’s Spring camp program, and hopes to donate 30 more to their Fall camp program.

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Tracy E. Thomas, CEO and founder of Changing Fate explains –

“These small, simple, and easy to learn instruments give the user the ability to transform themselves from victim to Survival Artist. Once those in need receive their gift of healing, we reach out to them again by providing quality knowledge, instruction, and guidance in how to play their new instrument, provided by professionals in the field.”

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Thomas is a cancer survivor himself and is lead guitarist and vocalist for the group. Whether drawing, painting, doodling, filming, screaming, pounding or strumming, Changing Fate wants to help survivors make that happen as a means to communicate their story to the world at large.

Athletes 4 Cancer runs six Camp Koru sessions each year for cancer survivors, funded solely by individual, corporate and private donations. Adventures range from surfing and paddling in Hawaii, to skiing, snowboarding and yoga in Oregon. For more information, check out athletes4cancer.org and CHNGNF8.org.

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5 Traits of an Outstanding Volunteer – Happy National Volunteer Appreciation Week

I just learned yesterday that it’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week. There is a week for everything, I know, especially in the cancer realm. But this one doesn’t discriminate — it’s a week for all causes, everywhere, and it’s detrimental to every non-profit organization’s existence.

I’ll be frank here. Working with volunteers is one of the most challenging aspects of my job. It’s also one of the most rewarding. When I experience working with an outstanding volunteer, I do everything I can to encourage them, empower them and never let them go. I pay my volunteers at Athletes 4 Cancer with 2 forms of payment:

  1. Athletes 4 Cancer tee shirts and water bottles — all of which my great volunteers have too many.
  2. Praise & AppreciationFree, and I can never give enough.

With that said, and in celebration of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, I’m sharing my top 5 traits for what makes outstanding volunteers so outstanding.

  1. Passionate enthusiasm – They love the cause, the people, the program, the event. They champion the cause in and out of the office, at events and amongst friends. Then, they harness all that love into doing great work.
  2. Professional – Serving as a volunteer doesn’t equate to slacking. The best volunteers treat their role with pride and professionalism, recognizing the organization is a business and depends on them to help achieve impact.
  3. Make no excuses – They are committed and dependable. Timeliness and follow-through are top priorities to them. When they say they’re going to do something, they do it.
  4. Selfless in their contribution – Outstanding volunteers think less about what they can get from the experience of volunteering and more about what they can contribute. This is a big one!
  5. Mission-driven – Outstanding volunteers understand our mission and the impact we aim to achieve in the world, and are dedicated to being a part of making that happen.

If you want to be an outstanding volunteer, note these five above, then talk to these outstanding Athletes 4 Cancer volunteers below about the work they do. I can’t say enough about these amazing individuals in the time and passion they have given to the work we do. There are many many more I would like to add to this list but it would take me all day. And to all the volunteers who give of themselves, THANK YOU! Social innovation, solutions and systemic change would not happen without you.

Mark Whitehead, Garret Zallen, Jenny Williams, Jon Williams, Kip Wylie, Machelle Dotson, Nikki Hollatz, Jon Price, Terese Roeseler, Richard Hallman, Jen Casto, Sarah Bahn, Rayna Morton,  Brian Wolff, Chris Aguilar, Nina Garkavi, Tamar Melen, Brianne Sabin, and many many more.

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Volunteers and participants at our annual fundraiser, Kiteboarding 4 Cancer

A4C Camp was Type II Fun

Written by Samm Newton

Ever heard of the “types” of fun? It goes like this:

Type I: Fun, fun, fun! “Don’t let it end” kind of fun.
Type II: Not fun in the moment, but upon reflection, you’re glad you did it. It builds character.
Type III: Not fun. Ever.

For me, painting is Type I. Athletes 4 Cancer camp was Type II. And you can guess what type of fun cancer is.

I was 25 and living out my quarter-life crisis on a farm in the middle of nowhere California when the hammer fell. My cancer was a rare, aggressive type of thyroid cancer. It spread to my pancreas, kidney, small intestine, colon; they took all that out. Chemo came later.

It was a support group for young adults with cancer that brought me to to A4C.

A4C camp was truly a type II, character-building experience. In June of 2014, I headed to the A4C snow camp. We had the choice between skiing and snowboarding, and I thought, “I’m not cool. I can’t snowboard,” so skiing it was. Except no one told me everyone else was cool, and I ended up on the slopes not with the other survivors, but with the counselors (no offense, counselors).

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I was by myself a lot of time, feeling like I was missing out on the snowboarding camaraderie. Here I thought I might be the rock, the leader even, for everyone else to lean on. Instead, the experience forced me to examine some of my fears, emotions, and anxieties. Plus, just a lot of mental things that happen to you after cancer.

I was almost angry when I left. I was just in a really strange place.

It wasn’t until much afterwards, when I was really able to sift through everything that happened to me, that I realized what an amazing experience A4C camp was. Type II fun can be powerful.

Since camp, I’ve also met tons of other campers who love A4C and the hope it gives to survivors. I can see what it’s done for the friends I’ve made. Sometimes, I think what I’ve taken away from it is seeing the happiness of those other people. And I believe in it for that reason too.

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As my third anniversary of “no signs of cancer” approaches this April, you can find me painting artwork for A4C. Consider donating to A4C here.

The faces that kissed cancer goodbye

Yesterday was World Cancer Day –  a day we fully embraced here at Athletes 4 Cancer with images of our Camp Koru survivor ambassadors “kissing cancer goodbye.” These beautiful faces have gone through some serious physical and psychological challenges in their young lives. Some are still battling the disease and fighting for their lives. All of them are seeking or have found a new normal after cancer. Life is never the same, but you move forward.

This is the face of cancer. 

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FACES, from left to right, top to bottom : D’Lontae, Virginia; Brianne, Oregon; Jessica, New Jersey; Chelsea, Oregon; Arieana, Boston; Christina, Oregon; Lakin, Oregon; Elise, Ottawa Canada; Rhonda, Maryland.
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More FACES: Kelley, Oregon; Lauren, New Jersey; Molly, Minnesota; Nina, Seattle; Leah, Oregon; Marnie, Oregon; Michelle, Montana; Michael, Oregon; Kristina, Maryland
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And more FACES: Brianna, Oregon; Olga, Somewhere cold; Trish, Washington DC; Rachael, Pennsylvania; Yvonne, Oregon; Rachael, Oregon; Rhonda, Maryland; Sheryl, Seattle; Steve, Oregon

World Cancer Day was started by the Union for International Cancer Control to promote a positive and proactive approach to the fight against cancer, highlighting that solutions do exist across the continuum of cancer, and that they are within our reach.

I really like their positive and proactive approach to eliminating cancer globally. Their basic points of focus should be something we all strive toward:

  • Choosing healthy lives
  • Delivering early detection
  • Achieving treatment for all
  • Maximizing quality of life

Seems simple enough, right?

Kiss Cancer Goodbye

Feb. 4 is World Cancer Day, a day celebrating a positive and proactive approach to the fight against cancer. Join the conversation and call on others to #KissCancerGoodbye after you read this uplifting message from Alyson Geary, a breast cancer survivor and past Camp Koru participant serving as the Director of Donor Relations for the North York General Foundation. 


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This photo was taken by Bear on the beach in Maui. It represents kissing cancer goodbye because I got out of bed for the first time in many months. After cancer was all done and life was suppose to go back to normal, I got hit with clinical depression, severe anxiety, and post traumatic stress syndrome. I couldn’t function.

Being accepted to Camp Koru forced me to get out of bed and deal. I really started eating for the first time in months at camp, I smiled again, and I came home and fulfilled my lifelong dream by buying a century farm, 150-year-old house. I met an amazing man, my kids are happy again, and I am back to work. I am once again “Aly” or otherwise known as “Khalessi”! Don’t screw with a warrior princess!

Camp Koru and AC4 saved my soul. I will be forever grateful for you being one of my many shovels helping me dig my way out of that dark hole.

The North York General Hospital shared Alyson’s story, proving she’s in the right role at the right time. 

All About Hair

Brianna Barrett is one of five Camp Koru ambassadors contributing to the A4C blog sharing her experience about life and cancer.


I refused to shave my head for a preposterously long time. In fact, I refused to shave my hair until after my treatment was over. I was this scrawny, sickly-looking person with creepy long strands of hair over my mostly-bald head. I theorized that it was still enough hair that when I was wearing a beanie or something, it at least looked like I still had some hair (I was probably wrong about this). I often wore a wig, but sometimes wigs are itchy, and you still want to feel like you’re not bald!

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The day before I was heading to Seattle to see one of my all-time favorite musicians in concert, my friend Ryan (who never saw me without a wig or hat before) insisted on seeing what my head looked like. Then, upon viewing my disturbingly mangy scalp, he marched me into his bathroom and shaved my head himself. Turns out, I looked way better completely bald than weird-creepy-almost bald.

Brianna-on-a-date-shortly-after-her-last-treatmentThe next day at the concert, I still wore my wig as I usually did in public. I’m not sure how it happened, though I suspect it had something to do with the fact that I was right next to the stage, but a group of girls at the show started to pick a fight with me. Alcohol-induced, I guess. They were really rude to me and trying to get me to leave.

I have always regretted that I didn’t pull off my wig for just a second to show them my bald head and freak them out. I could’ve said, “Leave me alone. I just beat cancer like two weeks ago and I’m celebrating.” That would have been awesome.

So if you’re reading this and you have cancer and you’re bald, I recommend using that vacant noggin to put rude strangers in their place as needed.

Brianna-catching-a-wave-in-HawaiiBrianna Barrett is a writer, filmmaker, and artist living in Portland, Oregon. Currently, she is directing a new play, 36 Perfectly Appropriate Mealtime Conversations, for the 2015 Fertile Ground festival and will donate $1 of all ticket sales to support fellow young adults cancer patients and survivors at OHSU. During treatment, Brianna also kept a video journal about her experience. 

Season’s Greetings from Sufferfest

If you’re going to voluntarily suffer, do it for the right reasons. Like Oregon resident Mark Frost.

On Dec. 21, Mark and about 40 hard-charging recruits took on ten consecutive hours of Sufferfest cycling with proceeds benefitting Athletes 4 Cancer. Only the strong and generous need sign up.

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Participants chipped donations while undergoing a pedal-induced sweat fest on stationary bikes in Hood River, Oregon. In total, the event raised about $1,000!

“My father suffered from prostate cancer, and I was compelled to hold this fundraiser in his honor. He selected Athletes 4 Cancer after learning about the positive impact the organization had on young survivors in Hood River,” said Mark.

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We’re grateful and inspired to have support from folks like Mark and those who dared to cement their bottoms on a bike for a Sunday. Learn how we’re putting their passion and dollars to work.