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.

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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.

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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Green Team kites for the cause of cancer

Fundraising Green Team say they are addicted to kiting. That's a good thing!
Fundraising Green Team say they are addicted to kiting. That’s a good thing!

“Here’s a picture of all of our kites that we used on our last vacation kiteboarding in Maui.  We named our KB4C team ‘The Green Team’ because everyone on our team loves nature and enjoys outdoor activities. Taking care of the environment is important to us. We have been addicted to it since our first lesson! We are from Colorado and Florida,” wrote Brad and Mary Thompson.

 

 

The kiteboarding GREEN TEAM rocked today’s Kiteboarding 4 Cancer  today. They had a rider on a hydrofoil board – not an easy board for a six hour ride. They helped raise money to support our programs that help young adults with cancer.

What a way to ride

 

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.

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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.

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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

Kalele’s Ohana

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This post is an excerpt from a blog of a survivor who attended one of our spring camps. She forwarded me the link and I thought it would be nice to share…

A cool breeze rifles my hair from the hammock under the vanilla tree just steps from the aqua blue waters of the Pacific ocean off the coast of Maui. A week ago I arrived as a newcomer to this island, and a stranger to the fourteen other cancer survivors who shared this special place with me. Now we, as well as the staff and other teachers we have had the good fortune to interact with this week are ohana – “family” in Hawaiian.

This incredible experience was provided to us through an organization called Athletes 4 Cancer whose mission is to enrich lives impacted by cancer through the healing power of the elements and the tenacity of the human spirit. They fulfill that mission with surfing, stand up paddle boarding and snowboarding camps for cancer survivors in Hawaii and Hood River, Oregon. Camp Koru is healing in so many ways. At the outset, just the connection with the incredible beauty of this place and its natural wonders: the water, fragrant flowering plants and the towering volcanic peaks provide a sense of peace not readily available in the fast-pace of the mainland.

For some, just being in the ocean was a new experience that required them to overcome a fear of the unknown. For others, sharing their story for the first time with other survivors was an opportunity to connect with those who have been there. Putting words to an experience that engenders such turbulent emotions is not always easy, but definitely feels safer with someone who has walked a mile in your shoes. With our scars, buckets of meds and all their assorted side effects, sometimes unusual diets, prosthetic and missing parts, not to mention the emotional impacts of facing your own mortality, we can sometimes feel like misfits among the general population. But here, we are just like everyone else, or even realize perhaps that we didn’t have it so bad, after all….

Continue reading Kalele’s full experience and what she got out of it here >

And some images from Kalele’s Camp Koru experience…

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The North Face Awards Explore Fund Grant to Athletes 4 Cancer – supports a national effort to increase outdoor exploration among young adults affected by cancer

We are so stoked to have North Face as a supporting partner in our Camp Koru program!! Here’s the full press release…

North Face Explore Fund

Hood River, OR – January 10, 2012 – The North Face, has awarded an Explore Fund grant to Athletes 4 Cancer (A4C) for their Camp Koru Cancer Survivorship Program. The Explore Fund’s mission is to inspire and enable the next generation of explorers by funding non-profit organizations that are working to re-connect children with nature. By encouraging an active healthy lifestyle and protection of our natural landscapes, a stronger connection of youth and young adults to the outdoors can be nurtured.

Camp Koru’s primary focus is to help rebuild lives after cancer.  A4C uses adventure-based experiences such as surfing, outrigger canoeing, standup paddling and snowboarding, as channels of healing and life-renewal that treat the mind, body, and soul. Athletes for Cancer’s programs, such as Camp Koru, aim to help young survivors not just survive, but thrive in all aspects of life.  Athletes 4 Cancer was selected from more than 900 applications submitted for the first of two grant cycles in 2012.

Since The North Face Explore Fund was initiated in 2010, The North Face has provided more than $1 Million in grants to non-profits all over the world working to connect youth to the outdoors, with more than three quarters of that going to programs in the United States.

We are very pleased and grateful to receive support from The North Face Explore Fund,” said Tonia Farman, executive director of Athletes 4 Cancer. “We truly believe in the physical, emotional and social benefits of connecting young people with the outdoors, and this funding will help us continue to provide that experience to young cancer survivors.”

The Camp Koru program was established in 2010 to further expand A4C’s mission of harnessing the healing power of the elements with outdoor adventure. Since it’s founding, the program has run six camp programs that focus on, and directly impact, small groups of 16 survivors each.  Set in a safe and supportive environment, participants are first instructed with the proper tools, then encouraged to make their own confident decisions in the ocean (surfing, standup paddling) just as in life. These individuals discover that they can overcome fears of something they never thought they could do, sharing their experiences with their peers at camp, and leaving with a new outlook on facing life after cancer. The impact reaches beyond camp, inspiring participants to be agents and change and embrace life while influencing friends, family, and other survivors, to do the same.

Athletes 4 Cancer has been able to advance the mission exponentially with the support of partner organizations such as the John Wayne Cancer Foundation (JWCF) and the Seattle Foundation. JWCF and Athletes 4 Cancer share a mutual vision for harnessing the healing powers of physical activity and the outdoors in the fight against cancer.  This synergy led to JWCF support and inspiration to Athletes 4 Cancer for launching the Camp Koru program.

“There can be so many barriers to getting kids outdoors, whether it be a disability, health resources or simply a lack of access. A large percentage of the grants went toward funding organizations that are addressing these issues by providing access and education,” said Ann Krcik, director of Outdoor Exploration at The North Face. “We believe that if you can get kids to love the outdoors, not only will they develop skills that will help them throughout life, but they will grow up to care about their natural world, protecting and conserving the wild places they explore”

Camp Koru will launch on March 17, 2013 for two sessions in Maui, Hawaii. To learn more about Athletes 4 Cancer and Camp Koru visit http://www.athletes4cancer.org   For more information about The North Face Explore Fund, please visit www.explorefund.org

About Athletes 4 Cancer

Athletes 4 Cancer is dedicated to enriching lives impacted by cancer through the healing power of the elements and the tenacity of the human spirit. Essentially, Athletes 4 Cancer rebuilds lives after cancer. Athletes 4 Cancer focuses on rebuilding and renewing lives after cancer through outdoor adventure.

About The North Face®

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The North Face, a division of VF Outdoor, Inc., was founded in 1968. Headquartered in San Leandro, California, the company offers the most technically advanced products in the market to accomplished climbers, mountaineers, snowsport athletes, endurance athletes, and explorers. The company’s products are sold in specialty mountaineering, backpacking, running, and snowsport retailers, premium-sporting goods retailers and major outdoor specialty retail chains.