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 from behind Luna’s Lens

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

~ Tamar/Luna

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“Faces of survivorship” – 5253, 6473, 5327, 4896, 4792, 6463

Give an Athletes for Cancer Membership and change a life.

We value experiences over stuff for the Holidays. Stuff collects; experiences last.

Here is an experience you can give to a loved one that is like no other. What if you gave an experience that changed a life?

Consider giving the gift of an Athletes for Cancer Membership this holiday season.  With a minimum donation of $250, you can give an A4C Membership in someone else’s name so they can experience being an agent of impact, while giving a life-altering experience to someone else.  Recipient receives a shirt, sticker, invitations to special events and opportunities to be more involved. They also receive updates on the impact of our survivorship program that you’ve helped fund.

Or, make a donation in any amount in someone else’s name and they will receive a personal thank-you card and information on the Survivorship Program they are supporting.

Athletes for Cancer is a small organization that thrives on impact and outcome. Each donation truly and positively transforms lives. Thank you for your support.

When ‘Ohana happens – A Report from A4C Team Duke Camp 2

Athletes for Cancer show their Surf & SUP style in Maui.

On October 30, twelve cancer survivors between the ages of 19 and 40 arrived at Camp Oluwalu on Maui’s west shore to experience the Athletes for Cancer Survivorship Program.

Camper goody bags

Their journeys originated from eight states and two countries — New York, Ontario, and Florida, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington, Phoenix, and Colorado.  Their cancers: Testicular, Hodgkins Lymphoma (three), Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Glioblastoma Brain Cancer, Retinoblastoma, and Breast Cancer (3). Three were still undergoing different treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.

Survivors on day 1

A4C fighters and survivors who come to camp must arrive with a Power Name. Power names describe where you are in your life; it gives power to its owner and power to the name. Power Names are unique to Athletes for Cancer Ambassadors who attend camp, and you just might have to attend one to get one.

Touchdown, Gecko, Gemini in paddle practice

At first campfire, everyone gets the low down on the schedule for the week. Then it’s somewhat of an open mic. Some talk about their cancer, some just talk about surfing being on their bucket list. Many cancers are recent. Some are still fighting it, and can’t say they are yet “cancer-free.” Some are scared for life. Some are scared of death. Some seem to have no fear. They’re just chillin. All of them are at camp to meet others with similar struggles and frustrations attempting to live life after cancer.
Listening intently
Day 1: The journey begins. The first day is all about fear, anxiety and overcoming it. Fear of getting in the water, fear of waves, fear of sea life, fear of camp food, fear of vulnerability, and fear of these strangers with which they are spending the next five days. We overcome some, not all, of these fears on day one. The waves are perfectly friendly and non-intimidating for everyone to catch a wave somehow, whether it’s standing, sitting, laying down, paddle or no paddle!
Malana attempts to standDay 2: Finding comfort and confidence. We continue getting comfortable in the water, both in surfing and standup paddling. Everyone tries both, and some are already finding their confidence in one over the other.
A day with Kimokeo
Day 3: Exploration Day. We take a break from the surf for some extra curricular activities that have secured themselves as tradition at camp. We start the day early with a magical ocean cultural experience with the Kihei Canoe Club on the south shore of the island. We learn the theme and meaning of ‘Ohana from Kimokeo himself, a Hawaiian cultural icon, paddler, and just all-around humble and real human being.
‘Ohana, at its most basic meaning, is “family” in Hawaiian. However, in hawaiian culture, and in our program,  it reaches beyond blood relations to refer to any group of people with a common bond that treats and respects eachother as FAMILY
Our off day has become a favorite day at camp. This day is fun, empowering, educational, sometimes surprising, sometimes challenging, but always an instrumental day during the journey at camp.
Day 4: More water time. Look at that determination!
Day 5: Final Challenge Day. We take everything we learned throughout the week and do something different.  Our last day is always a surprise and it definitely was this time!  The great thing about the ocean is that it is dynamic, ever moving and changing moods. It’s a theme and message that is ingrained into our minds on the first day and throughout camp. Be aware of your surroundings, the elements, and the conditions that mother nature controls and changes at any given moment.
The standup paddling downwinder during Athletes for Cancer camp
Survivors & Staff prepare for the mission ahead
SUP Survivor
At the end of this week-long journey, there is an incredible connection amongst the group that only cancer survivors can understand. They overcame challenges and accomplished  some things they never thought they could do. They formed relationships with peers who  can empathize with their cancer struggles, while celebrating with them as they catch their first wave.
Individually, survivors carry themselves with a new confidence and strength. They stand a little taller, walk prouder, and laugh more. They leave camp with a renewed spirit, and a revitalized sense of self and purpose to take ownership of their physical and emotional well-being.  The hope and goal is for survivors to integrate this success and confidence they discovered at camp back into their daily lives. Their new outlooks truly help dilute the stigma of “cancer” in the community and inspire other survivors to embrace life in the same way.
Touchdown catches a wave
Gecko catches her 100th wave of camp
Athlete Survivors take a break from surfing to check out the Northshore

Contributors to camp include…

  • The John Wayne Cancer Foundation, for their generous grant, and who also gave us pounds and pounds of awesome sunscreen that really works, water-friendly visors, surf shirts, trucker hats and hand-made beach bags by JWCF’s Jill Sisamis.
  • 2nd Wind Sports out of Hood River, Oregon, who donated rad shades and Camelbak Athletes for Cancer water bottles.
  • Hawaiian Airlines for helping us with baggage fees, donating miles, and being the best airline to fly to Hawaii!
  • Dakine, who gave us sun visors and accessory bags to carry our sunscreen and shades.
  • Emergen-C sent enough boxes of vitamin dust for each camper and staff to keep us from getting sick! Yeah! And, no one got sick!
  • Xcel gave us a sweet deal on the A4C surf shirts, which we love because the sun is wicked strong in Hawaii and we’re out in it for about 6 hours a day!
  • Tracy Kraft Leboe for her stunning photography and four days of time with us!
  • Donors to the Tenacity Games, Kiteboarding 4 Cancer, SUP 4 Cancer, and Kayak 4 Cancer who made all of this happen. Thank you!
  • Check out all of our Camp Partners on our website.

California SUP’er receives whale of an escort during endurance paddle, by Pete Thomas

California surfer receives whale of an escort during marathon paddle, by Pete Thomas.

I absolutely love this story. It embodies our passion to utilize our sports to do something good, but with a twist of good karma… [Tonia Farman]

When Southern California surfer Jodie Nelson set out Sunday to standup-paddle nearly 40 miles from Santa Catalina Island to Dana Point, she hoped it’d inspire her best friend, who has been involved in a long and exhausting struggle with breast cancer, to keep fighting.

Nelson, 34, whose mother and aunt are cancer survivors, also hoped her nine-hour test of endurance would raise money for two cancer charities and heighten awareness about a plight affecting millions of women.

What Nelson could not have known was that a 30-foot minke whale would swim alongside her 14-foot board and accompany the surfer as she stood and paddled for two of those nine hours, thus joining the cause.

“It was a day that all of us involved will never forget,” Nelson said, in reference to Angela Robinson, her best friend, and the rest of a crew aboard an escort boat.

Minke whales are not commonly seen off Southern California, and those spotted by boaters are often elusive. So when a mammal Nelson named Larry joined her endeavor to become the first woman to make this long paddle, she took it as a sign.

“To me it was a total God thing,” the San Clemente resident said. “We prayed at 4 that morning that God would reveal his beauty and creation and nature, and allow me to endure this long trek, so for me it’s not such a huge surprise that this happened.”

Larry did not merely swim close to Nelson. He rolled around repeatedly alongside her and blew bubbles beneath her board. A film crew was on the escort boat and CNN, Fox News and ABC are just some of the networks she says are interested in the story and footage.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, an American Cetacean Society whale researcher, said minke whales can be friendly but added: “This type of quality encounter is highly unusual.”

Nelson raised only about $6,000 in advance of the paddle, disappoingtingly short of her target of $100,000 for the Keep a Breast Foundation and Boarding for Breast Cancer. A few of her celebrity friends let her down, she said, but when this story reaches a national audience she expects the pool to grow considerably.

“I thought, ‘I don’t need so-and-so,’ ” she said of a particular celebrity, whom she declined to name. “Because I honestly feel like Larry is going to help us reach the $100,000 mark with our fundraising effort.”

Larry or no Larry, completing a standup paddle over 39.8 miles of ocean and sharks speaks volumes about Nelson’s strength, stamina and determination.

Larry took her mind off the task for two magical hours, but her mind never strayed from the cause. “I can’t even begin to compare what I did to what cancer patients are going through,” she said. “But I wanted to put myself out there in a dangerous and scary, overwhelming situation; something that was big and just to show people that you can win that battle with that big, scary thing called cancer.

“I wanted to draw some kind of parallel and just encourage people to keep fighting.”

Those wanting to help Jodie with her mission can do so via her page on the Keep a Breast Foundation website.

Standup Paddle 4 Cancer July 10-11 2010

The 2nd Annual Standup Paddle 4 Cancer (SUP4C) will have its own dedicated day this year, due to the popularity and feedback received from the 2009 SUP4C. SUP events will take place on the one forecasted calm day of the two days July 10-11. Come out and race for prizes, the cause or just to learn the fun watersport of standup paddlesurf (SUP)!

Location: Hood River Waterfront Event Site in Hood River, Oregon.  View Large Map of Hood River and waterfront area.

SUP Distance Race : Open to two SUP craft categories:

  • 12’6” and under
  • 14′ +

The Course: Racers will paddle a course starting in front of the Hood River Event Site in the Columbia River, into the Nichols Boat Basin, and circling around buoy 1, then back outside into the Columbia rounding buoy #2 to finish the lap. Racers will paddle this course for 2 hours, and racer first across the finish line with the most laps takes the title.

SUP Full Contact Race : is a fun and challenging contest of balance, strength, and determination! Braced with boxing gloves on the handle side of the paddle, racers paddle head to head in heats of 12 competitors, with the goal to knock others off their boards and into the water. The last competitor standing wins the title.

SUP 4×4 Relay Race : consists of 4 teams of four racers each, racing one lap from the Columbia River into the Nichols Boat Basin, back out into the Columbia in front of the Event Site, tagging their team mate for the relay.

Eligibility: Open to men and women at least 18 years of age. (17 & under must have signed parental/guardian form).

SUP4C Schedule: Times may be subject to change so bookmark this page for updates!!

Friday, July 9th — Athlete pre-registration and athlete’s Fuel Feast!
Saturday, July 10th OR Sunday, July 11th
— Forecast for calm day will be announced by July 8th.

7 -9 am: Registration
10 am: SUP Endurance Race start
2 pm-ish: Full Contact SUP Race
4 pm-ish: 4×4 SUP Relay

Funds raised from Standup Paddle 4 Cancer will benefit SUP/Kiteboarding Survivorship Camps for Young Adults with Cancer that our organization is starting in 2010.

Registration will open April 1, so stay tuned and start training!!

John Wayne Cancer Foundation takes part again in KB4C and donates SUP to top fundraiser at SUP4C and KB4C!!


We are thrilled to once again have the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and Team Duke join us in partnership to put on Kiteboarding 4 Cancer!!

John Wayne Cancer Foundation is donating a Hawaiian Pro Designs Takayama Ali’i I 11’6 Standup Paddle Board to Kiteboarding 4 Cancer to give away as the top fundraising prize on August 8th!

To register for KB4C and SUP4C, go to our website here and register for a profile page to raise funds for the cause. Only 2 weeks left to the event!

JWCF is a strong supporter of the athletic community’s determination and passion to give to this cause, and we are thrilled to have them on our team. The mission of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation is to bring courage, strength, and grit to the fight against cancer. To be a part of the team, go to Team Duke!