This year marks 20 years since my initial diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease, now known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was 17 years old at the time and a senior in high school. All these years later, and I am still dealing with long-term effects and secondary cancers. I began searching on good-old Google for a getaway for cancer survivors because I wanted to get away from it all—the bills, the doctor’s appointments, the depression—and hang out with fellow survivors. I visited a Planet Cancer camp years ago, but I could tell Epic Experience would be completely different. When I saw pictures on Epic’s Facebook page of horseback riding, rafting, and campfires, I decided to submit an application.
When I lived in New York, I attended some support groups held by the hospital but didn’t really connect with anyone for some odd reason. Finding out that the summer camp I would be attending would be with fellow Hodgkin’s survivors was exciting. I’m not sure what it is about being surrounded by survivors with the same diagnosis, but the connections were there. Initially I had some nerves in anticipation of my arrival in Colorado. I’d never been there before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had some doubt whether I would be able to interact with others because I am an introvert and can be quiet at times. I also had doubts about attending the activities; I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to participate because of medical issues like my right hip replacement. But alongside the anxiety and nervousness I was excited to experience new things and get out of my comfort zone. I would be able to disconnect from the real world and just enjoy my surroundings while being in the present moment.
Once I arrived to Denver and met the other campers and volunteers, I felt at ease. My worries and concerns began drifting away as I shared cancer stories with my fellow survivors and discovered we shared common issues and fears. No matter the race, age, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation, we were able to relate to one common thing—cancer. No matter how long we’d been out of treatment, cancer still was a part of who we are. I believe most of us still think about it daily, and having a group where we could express our emotions was very cathartic. I loved when we would break into groups in the mornings and discuss our theme, word, and quote for the day, and I enjoyed playing Rummikub at night. My favorite part of my experience was the slip and slide Whitewater Rafting, LLC, surprised us with. It surely made us feel like kids again. The scenery we were able to witness while kayaking was breathtaking. I had moments of stillness just appreciating Mother Nature. I didn’t want to go back to reality but knew it was inevitable.
Beyond the laughter and tears, we shared a common bond that couldn’t have been created without Epic Experience, the volunteers, Wingman, and Mama Lou. We were able to form friendships at camp that are life lasting. I miss being there with my fellow campers but hope to be able to volunteer one day and give back to others what an amazing experience I had.
~ Shelley (a.k.a. Kawaakari)