By: Kelly O’Malley-McKee
When I was declared cancer-free, my worries and fears didn’t magically go away. While my friends and family were celebrating that I was finished with cancer and getting back to ‘regular’ life by working again, I felt more alone than ever.
Gone were the days of hosting epic St. Patty’s Day parties. (I didn’t invite close friends over for dinner anymore.) Gone were the days of laughing out loud with co-workers at the lunch table. (I ate alone at my desk.) Gone were the days of happy hours with friends. (I didn’t even reach out to the amazing people who supported me through my treatment.)
I had endured stage 2B IDC breast cancer at the age of 36: four months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, dozens of medications, hormone treatment, radioactive scans, uncontrollable pain and lots of side effects.
Those things were behind me, yet still with me. I was dark and miserable and lost and fearful. I didn’t know who the real Kelly was, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
These feelings were with me as I entered the lodging facility for Camp Koru Snow in March 2014.
Trying a new sport with a new body was intimidating. I was frustrated. I cried. I wanted to quit many times. But one day, it finally clicked. Nalu, a camp counselor, noticed I was having trouble with my turns on the bunny hill. “Just curl your toes!” she shouted. I tried it, and it worked! From there, it was smooth sailing—at least on the bunny hill.
On my final day, I tried the real run. I was terrified of this uncharted territory. People were zooming by and I was getting pissed off and intimidated. Nalu coached me along the way. At some point, I lost control and started down a black diamond route. “Heels! Heels! Heels!” shouted Nalu, encouraging me to stop.
Nalu pulled me back out of the abyss and back onto the easy run. My legs were tired, and I needed to stop a few times. But the next thing I knew, I was at the bottom of the hill and the feeling of celebratory accomplishment and pride overwhelmed me to the point of tears. “I can’t believe I did it!” I remember crying to Nalu. “Thank you so much. This is an amazing moment.”
After a week with the camp staff and fellow young survivors—supporting each other on the slopes, connecting individually, laughing over meals and sharing in our nightly circle—I found a new family. I discovered strength, hope, confidence and courage I thought was lost. I was even reacquainted with my long-lost belly laugh.
Most importantly, l started to like Kelly again. My Camp Koru experience gave me the push to take the next step in a post-cancer life, and I will be forever grateful to those who gave me this opportunity.
[Editor’s Note: Kelly is fundraising to send another young survivor to Camp Koru through our Alive365! Campaign. Help her here!]