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.
Becky White Quote
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.

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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.

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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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.

John Wayne Cancer Foundation supports 2013 Camp Koru

John Wayne Cancer Foundation

The John Wayne Cancer Foundation has announced its support of our 2013 Camp Koru program through a grant that will fund 50% of the four week-long camps. We our honored and thrilled to have the John Wayne Cancer Foundation as an ongoing partner in cancer awareness and survivorship programs like Camp Koru!

The generosity of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation helped Athletes 4 Cancer start and carry out this program. JWCF and Athletes 4 Cancer share a mutual vision for harnessing the healing powers of physical activity and the outdoors to bring courage, strength, and grit to the fight against cancer.

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The John Wayne Cancer Foundation has supported Athletes 4 Cancer’s Camp Koru since 2011, and has supported Athletes 4 Cancer’s Kiteboarding 4 Cancer fundraiser since 2008. We are proud to run camps with the John Wayne legacy of to someday end cancer in our lifetimes. Thank you JWCF!

JWCF Athletes 4 Cancer Camp Koru

JWCF Athletes 4 Cancer Camp Koru

Learn more about the John Wayne Cancer Foundation here and JWCF’s involvement as an ongoing supporter of Camp Koru!