‘We Are All Family.’

By Katie | Power Name: ‘Sisu’, Camp Koru 19

I was diagnosed at 27 with stage 3b invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. I now have Stage 4. It has spread to my bones.

I heard about A4C from my friend Allie. She had applied and told me I should to. It sounded like a lot of fun and to be with people who have experienced cancer as well. I thought, “Why not try it out?” I could make new friends and help heal some open wounds the cancer leaves on you—mind and body.

Katie QuoteI was pretty open minded going into camp. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was concerned about the minor things like showering and where we were going to sleep. I am not a camping type of girl! But I’d go back there in a heartbeat.

Camp Koru changed my life in many ways. I realized I am not the same woman who was diagnosed at age 27. I’m now a 32-year-old survivor with a different outlook on life. I try to appreciate today and hope for a better tomorrow.

When I got home from camp, I found out that my cancer was back and it had spread to the bones. I was still in such a great mind space that I think it helped to accept that news.

I now have about 16 new friends that I can reach out to at anytime, for anything. There are a few I talk to on the daily. I love my Ohana. We are all family. This experience was by far the best thing that came out of having cancer. Gives you a chance to heal your mind, body and soul while getting out there and facing your fears!

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Camp Koru: More Than I Could Ever Imagine

By Becky White

I am a fiercely-independent single mother of three very active school-aged children.

Four years ago, at 37 years old, I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer (December 2011) and in January 2012, discovered I am a BRCA1 carrier. Following my initial lumpectomy, I found out that the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes, which meant I would need chemotherapy and prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, or a preventative mastectomy.

Unfortunately, one year later, the cancer spread to my bones and liver, changing my diagnosis to metastatic breast cancer, or stage IV. Metastatic cancer means that I will be on some kind of cancer treatment (mostly chemotherapies) for the remainder of my life. It sounds bleak, but I looked at this situation as a challenge and was determined to live past the statistics (average 2-3 year survival rate), and push myself to try new things.

That’s where Athletes 4 Cancer came into my life.
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I had already run a 5k with my daughter, completed a mud obstacle course and hiked into the Grand Canyon. Learning to surf had never crossed my mind, but I have always loved watching surfers. A woman in my cancer support group had just returned from a similar camp. Hearing her energy and enthusiasm, I immediately applied for Camp Koru surf camp. Not only was I going to learn how to surf, but I was going to meet other people surviving cancer! I was excited and ready to jump in feet first!

Camp Koru was more than I could have ever imagined. In one week, I learned to surf, I made amazing friendships and worked with dedicated staff and volunteers! It was a time to relax and challenge myself—challenge my determination and will. We were there at that moment to challenge ourselves and support those who were going through the same situation.

I came home with a sense of hope, a sense of community or “Ohana” (meaning family) and a sense of pride.

Athletes 4 Cancer created a life-altering experience for me by fostering community and safe space to bond over a challenging and fun activity—surfing! I am still connected to Athletes 4 Cancer and the other campers and have created a strong, supportive network.

Athletes 4 Cancer is a vital organization to those who are living with cancer.

What’s just as hard as fighting cancer for young adults? Surviving cancer.

By Tonia Farman

It’s ironic that my younger brother, Scott, passed away of Leukemia nine years ago today on National Cancer Survivors Day. He was 19.

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What’s also ironic is that I’ve learned more about surviving cancer as a young adult after his death. That part has come through his legacy. What I know is this: Survivorship is just as hard as fighting the disease itself for young survivors.

There’s the depression, body insecurities, incurred debt, false appearance of health, infertility, fear of recurrence and a lost sense of purpose.

‘Surviving cancer’ is wracked with stigmas survivors can’t shake, and this assumption that once the remission party confetti is swept up and the extra cake is plastic-wrapped, everything in the survivor’s life goes back to “normal.”

That’s not even a little bit true.

For the approximately 70,000 young adults diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, the truth is that they’re not the same person they were before cancer, and they face challenges that other survivors don’t.

Take dating for example. There’s a stigma attached to cancer that drapes over dating life. Do you just drop, “Hey, I had cancer.” on the first date?

That’s not easy to unload, and it’s not exactly light conversation. If that situation goes sour, imagine what that would do to a survivor’s self-confidence.

Or, consider the social challenges. Survivors get ghosted by their own friends because they feel uncomfortable talking about cancer.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) says a “desire for normalcy” can keep AYAs, or adolescents and young adults, from sharing their cancer experience with heathy peers, which adds to their sense of isolation. That’s why NIH says follow up care to address the late effects and psychosocial needs is particularly important for young adults.

After treatment, young survivors return to a world that expects them to snap back into the mold, into their old selves and the life they once lived. Everyone’s like, “You’re healthy, you’re young. You’ll get back after cancer, no problem. You’ll beat this. You got this!’”

But it’s not that easy.

We harm survivors when we question why they don’t act or feel the same as they did before cancer because it creates a culture of shame. It shames them for feeling weak and ungrateful, even though they have every right to feel whatever they feel.

Our society’s adoption of this belief that young people—no matter the circumstance—are indestructible has led to a lack of resources to help young adult survivors sort through these feelings. Historically, young adults have been “left behind” by research and support from the medical community, forgotten between the pediatric and older adult treatment settings.

I know how this goes because as my brother struggled through chemotherapy and a short-lived remission, there were almost no resources out there that addressed his unique needs as a young survivor. He briefly returned to college at one point and felt this total disconnect among his friends. He had no interest in partying; he was like 18 going on 30 and burdened with sickness.

After Scott passed, I became determined to help young survivors heal in a way that the healthcare system alone couldn’t.

One of the ways Scott found solace during treatment was through the outdoors. In Scott’s honor, I founded Athletes 4 Cancer, a nonprofit that helps young adult survivors reclaim their lives after cancer through the community and connections made through outdoor adventures. We teach them how to surf, ski, snowboard or standup paddle, and it’s through overcoming this challenge with their “cancer body” that many survivors find a renewed sense of purpose, confidence and hope. More important is the camaraderie they find with other survivors and the healing power of accepting, and even feeling inspired by, their “new normal.”

This is my brother’s legacy, and I’m proud of it, but we can all do more to help young survivors accept their “new normal” after cancer.

  • Refrain from discussing your own personal struggles that aren’t relevant to cancer.
  • Offer to take them to do something completely out of routine.
  • Encourage the survivor to share what life been like since treatment. (“How are things different for you?”)
  • Respect their post-treatment struggles rather than discounting them.
  • Offer an ear to listen. Listen intently and be open-minded.

Let’s let go of our expectations for young survivors to be as they once were, and be there for them as they are now.

Help us spread the word about the challenges of young adult survivorship by sharing this article!

 

And sometimes fishing happens

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There are times at camp when someone might not want to surf. Or they just physically can’t. They may, however, be able to lay on a paddleboard and snorkel-fish!

This is what happened at our most recent camp. Santar didn’t have the strength to surf. He had recently undergone treatment, and weakness permeated through his body. This is quite common at camp, but Camp Koru offers activities that anyone can do, even while lying down. So that’s what Santar did.

While Santar pointed out fish from the surface on the paddleboard, one of our surf guides, Ola, swam and speared fish below. It was great teamwork and symmetry, and a beautiful celebration of connecting with the ocean. Santar brought fish back to camp and like a true local — we ate freshly caught fish over a fire.

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Attempting to scale and filet the little buggers.

We Talk About Cancer, But We Can Still Make You Smile: Testimonials from Camp Koru

By: Tonia Farman

For each one of you who has ever given a dime to Athletes 4 Cancer, thank you. It has transformed lives. Here’s a quick reminder of what you’ve done. 

 I see your donations at work every time a survivor stands up on a surfboard with their post-cancer body; every time a survivor plucks up the courage to share their cancer story around the campfire; every time I read testimonials from Camp Koru alumni.

KORU_TKraftLeboe_AO0W2910-LRReading testimonials from our camps makes me smile, cry (with happiness) and laugh. I hope it will do the same for you. Here are some of the latest testimonials we’ve received from our 2015 camps:

I was feeling stuck in a rut after treatment. Going to Camp Koru tossed me out of that rut into the ocean! The supportive community that was around me helped me to relax deeply and challenge myself! I returned home feeling peaceful, invigorated, and loved. –Star

Everything about Camp Koru is beautiful. Beautiful Maui, the ocean, the surf, and the people who exude a beautiful, peaceful, positive healing environment for the campers. The best thing about Camp Koru is there’s no pressure. No pressure to share stories, until you’re ready, no pressure to surf if your body achy. As an introvert, I felt comfortable in my own skin from the minute I arrived. That doesn’t happen often. The staff is laid back, witty, and caring. The food is out-of-this-world. Life long friends were made, sleeping under the stars, on a beach in Maui. How much better can it get? Camp Koru was a time for me to heal, reflect, and finally move forward from my cancer diagnosis and treatment. –Mino

I met so many incredible cancer survivors and cancer survivors at Camp Koru.  Their friendship is what I value more than anything else. –Scuba

I made some lasting friendships, thrilled to the stunning natural beauty of Maui, got to surf and SUP and try some new things, and was surrounded by love and support and understanding for a full week. It was invigorating and rejuvenating, and it gave me strength to move forward. –Ripley

Koru was the positive force I needed to help me through treatment for triple negative breast cancer. As a surfer, I was crushed to be out of the water over a year and, though I barely had strength to stand up with lymphedema at 5 weeks post-surgery, having the help and support of the Koru Camp 6 Ohana fellow survivors was an essential step. –Koa

IMG_1176 (2)Thank you to all the donations, support, guidance counselors, and all those who helped make this trip become such a life-altering trip. I now have upwards of 20 new friends thanks to this camp. I would do anything for them and welcome them to my home as part of my family. –Renegade

I attended Camp Koru’s surf/SUP camp in Maui. What an amazing experience! It’s been a dream of mine to learn to surf and travel to Hawaii, and I never thought a cancer diagnosis was the thing that was going to bring me there. It was a truly unique experience to be able to live out this dream with other survivors who I was so inspired by. Since having this experience it has impacted my life by gaining strength and inspiration from other survivors to continue to live life to it’s fullest. –Flora

These words are proof that Athletes 4 Cancer is achieving what we set out to do: help survivors reclaim their life after cancer! We’re feeding souls and giving inspiration and healing. It’s truly incredible.

You can support us by making a donation here.

Camp Koru Set A New Bar for How to Experience the Rest of My Life

By: Serenity Shanklin (“Redwood”)

On the eve of my 35th birthday, I had no idea that my world was about to be flipped upside down and shaken like a snow globe. All of the little things that I felt secure about were all out of place. Like anyone who is young and has a cancer diagnosis, I had instantly leapt out of the shelter of youth. I went from being 34 to 54 overnight.

Serenity

A few years later, after everything I’ve been through to survive, my illusions about life are gone and I’ve had no choice but to grow up. At first I was simply mortified about what had happened to my body after an extremely invasive and painful surgery that left me with large scars externally and a Frankenstein digestive system that made socializing over food embarrassing. I worried about what I would look like and who would want to date me. I was self-conscious about what I’d been through, my fatigue, and how I was perceived at work. Unfortunately, none of this was misplaced.

Although I was supported and loved by many people, I was judged at work and I lost some friendships. Eventually, I realized that the few people that really loved me and thought that I was awesome for being a cancer survivor were the only people that mattered. I accepted love from a man who is supportive instead of chasing after men that were unreliable. I was discriminated against at work for the last time and I had the guts stand up for myself. I’ve made some really wonderful changes in my life, just in case, life really is short, I’m finally living a life for me. I hate cancer, but this is pretty liberating.

Camp KoruSurviving cancer takes everything you have. At first, I was so exhausted that I had to evaluate the effort anything would take. For instance, if I washed my hair I would not be able to do much for the rest of the day. That way of thinking transcended into everyday life, friendships, work, and activities. Lots of things that I used to enjoy just didn’t make the cut anymore and I couldn’t afford to feel apologetic about it. I had to do things that had a big payback if I was going to do them at all.

So, after my gastric surgery, I decided to do something I never would have done before. I signed up to fly really far away from home by myself, and go hang out with a bunch of complete strangers on surf boards [Camp Koru] in Maui. This gave me something to look forward to as I healed from my surgery, and it motivated me to get stronger so I could do it. I met witty and creative survivors. We had the opportunity to learn about the healing strength of the ocean at Surf Club Maui. We chased after sea turtles on paddle boards, held impromptu photo shoots on the beach, ate shave ice, and slept under the stars. I made a best friend. I felt empowered and gained a new sense of hope. The experience at Camp Koru continues to inspire me and set a new bar for how I want to experience the rest of my life. Taking risks on things that make you happy is what life is all about.