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.


Get your Board Ready for Boards of Hope 2014

Get out that broken skateboard, surfboard, whatever board and paint it!

Boards of Hope is a project that brings artists and the boards we ride together for an empowering display of art, healing, and powerful impact on lives affected by cancer. Start your boards now. Submit them by July 4th.  Get complete info on Boards of Hope at our annual fundraiser’s website here.

Boards of Hope Poster


Patagonia’s Gerry Lopez, Fletcher Chouinard shape for purpose for Boards of Hope

Fletcher and Gerry Boards of Hope

The Boards of Hope Project is the embodiment of design, process, and the elements as channels of healing, purpose, and life. 

Boards of Hope began when 19-year old Scott Farman desperately sought to be outside. Instead, he was confined to a hospital bed battling leukemia, waiting for a bone marrow donor, and fighting for his life. Through that battle, Scott created powerful works of art in his hospital bed that today remain his legacy and inspiration for others to find healing through art & the outdoors. Scott’s legacy continues today at Camp Koru with an art space for participants’ to express their own personal journey with cancer.

This year we have some special contributors to Boards of Hope.

Gerry Lopez (The Legend) and Fletcher Chouinard (FCD Surfboards) of Patagonia. These boards were hand-shaped especially for Kiteboarding 4 Cancer by Gerry and Fletcher and will be up for bidding online and then at the live auction. Online bidding goes from Saturday, June 22nd until midnight on Friday, July 12th. Bidding will then move to the Live Auction at 6:00 pm July 13th at the Kiteboarding 4 Cancer event in Hood River, Oregon. You can get a jump on the bidding online and even place your top bid if you can’t make the live auction at the event. This is done by placing proxy bids (entering the max that you are willing to pay) if you are unable to attend the live auction. Boards were generously hand-crafted and donated by Patagonia, Fletcher Chouinard, and Gerry Lopez. For more information on Boards of Hope, check out the A4C website. BOARDS OF HOPE

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

Magical physical connections at camp

There is something magical about the connections made at Camp Koru. But it’s not all just about relationship connections, it’s physical connection that matters too. Here we explore how physical connection to each other can spur energy and inspire to so much more…

Photo by Richard Hallman, aka “Lucky Bacon”

The gift of getting the SOUL, LIFE back after cancer…. Priceless.

There’s so much STUFF you could get someone for the holidays. ipods, chia pets, scarves, Wiis, socks and… well, more crap that takes up space.  What if you gave someone the opportunity, after battling cancer, to rebuild their confidence, their identity and their life? What if that experience changed their life? Then inspired others to do the same?

We’re shouting out the impact of our survivorship program to the world. We’re done being modest.  Athletes for Cancer is aiming to raise $50 K by January 1 for our Young Adult Surviviorship Programs and we need your help. If you would like to go ahead and donate, do so here.  Or, read on more about the Program…

Learning to surf is just one component to getting over cancer

About the A4C Survivorship Camp Program

Athletes for Cancer creates life-changing experiences for young adult cancer fighters and survivors through outdoor adventure programs that challenge, support, and inspire individuals to rebuild their lives after cancer.

The standup paddling downwinder during Athletes for Cancer

The A4C Survivorship Program brings survivors together in a safe, active setting for facing and embracing challenges, and connecting with other survivors while finding a common ground on the path to rebuilding life after cancer. Our current camps take place in Maui, Hawaii, integrating the rich ocean culture and adventures of surfing, standup paddling, and outrigger canoeing as channels toward life renewal.

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

The myth of Survivorship

Most often, being a “cancer survivor” as a young adult implies that the survivor should be grateful for being alive, and to “get on with life.” In actuality, surviving cancer comes with some serious challenges — post-treatment side effects, disability, insurance battles, family and relationship challenges, financial struggles, body issues, sex and fertility barriers, career struggles, confidence and identity loss and more. Here is a great article from the Mayo Clinic on these challenges specific to young adults.  Often the struggles of life post-cancer are more difficult than the disease itself, yet survivorship is not something that is commonly “treated”.  Not many people recognize this.
The medical community is starting to recognize that the needs of the patient as a whole must be addressed — not just the body, but the mind, heart and the soul as well.  We recognize this, aiming to help fighters and survivors fuel the MIND, energize the HEART, and renew the SOUL so they can embrace living while inspiring other survivors to do the same.
Learning to SUP
Medical advances in cancer =  More people SURVIVING cancer!
People are surviving cancer now more than ever. However, the support and resources out there for survivors are limited and inadequate for young adults. Young adults are of an active generation that seek out alternatives to the traditional closed-room support group. Often, they turn down traditional support services completely, assuming they can handle post-cancer challenges on their own.  Athletes for Cancer provides an alternative support experience for young adults with cancer, utilizing outdoor adventures as an organic, yet therapeutic journey to healing and life renewal.
Surfing and supporting each other on and off the water.

Help us sustain and expand the impact of this program.

How you can contribute and be an agent of impact

  1. Give the gift of a donation (and the opportunity to help rebuild a life) in someone’s name. >
  2. Give the gift of an Athletes for Cancer Membership. Give a minimum donation of $250 to become an Athletes for Cancer Member. Recipient receives a shirt, sticker, invitations to special events and opportunities to be more involved.
  3. Refer a survivor you know to our program >
  4. Like our Facebook page (this is minor, but always helps get the word out!) >

If you would like to make an impact on this program, we ask that you DONATE now.  If you would like to volunteer for one of our camps or events, apply here. Our volunteers are the meat of what we do! You’ll be contributing to an incredible program and it does feed the soul a bit too. 😉

Making bonds with other cancer survivors, kicking cancer ass, taking names.

Kimokeo teaches us about the Hawaiian Fish Ponds, and many other lessons.

If you want to learn even more about the program, go to our website. You can also apply here.  Or, see how far your dollar goes when giving the gift of impact to someone:

  • Sponsor one full camp: $25,000
  • Sponsor one day of camp for all survivors: $3500
  • Sponsor one survivor to attend camp: $2000
  • Sponsor airfare for one survivor: $500-1000
  • Sponsor one day of camp for a survivor: $270
  • Sponsor 4-hours of adventure instruction, a key component in the program: $125
  • Sponsor a one day surfboard rental: $30
Every dollar matters. Thank you for your support!

Photos by Tracy Kraft Leboe