I heard about Epic Experience from two previous campers. Both kept telling me I needed to go; that 7W Guest Ranch was beautiful, that the activities were awesome, that I would find a new Epic family, that I would laugh till my sides hurt—which all sounds incredible, right? But I kept dragging my feet. It’s a free week of outdoor activities, which I love, in Colorado, one of my favorite places on Earth, and yet I was hesitant to apply. Why? I felt (somewhat arrogantly, perhaps) like I didn’t need it. I felt like I was already living beyond cancer and making it the smallest part of my life possible. I play softball and run and take classes at the gym and basically live life as if I never had cancer in the first place. I also felt like I hadn’t been through hell and back like some survivors, so I hadn’t really earned the trip to Colorado. Sure, I’d been through the diagnosis-surgery-chemotherapy routine (twice), but still—I never got sick during chemo. I didn’t have to stop working during treatment. I don’t have lingering side effects like neuropathy or migraines. I don’t have any evidence of disease. I felt like there was probably another cancer survivor who needed an epic week more than I did.
Well, I was wrong. I was the one who needed this week, in so many ways.
I’m not a touchy-feely-kumbaya kind of person. I don’t do support groups, and I don’t readily share my real feelings and struggles; I’m a secret crier. But there I was at Epic Experience, telling my small group things I never talk about, sniffling all the way through. I needed this experience of crying with others and living to tell about it.
I also needed to find my peeps. From the first getting-to-know-you chats in the airport, I knew I had found people with whom I could connect. Yes, cancer was the common denominator and we had fun comparing port scars, sharing photos of our various stages of baldness, and flashing four-fingered hashtags (#chemobrain) when we couldn’t remember a word. But the connections went beyond that. I found people with the same interests, values, and sense of humor. I look forward to keeping in touch with my new Epic family for years to come.
On a more frivolous note, I needed to act twelve years old and just have fun. I’m the organizer and planner in our family. I get meals on the table and bills paid and generally allow sanity to reign. However, I’m not so good at taking care of myself or doing things just because I enjoy them (my husband has to remind me to go get a massage). Epic Experience gave me a week free of planning, cooking, or cleaning up; the volunteers did everything. I just had to show up at the appropriate place wearing the appropriate gear and have fun. It really was like being a kid at camp. We sledded, threw snowballs, made snow angels, played games, and laughed. The Epic crew had a surprise activity planned for each day—everything from snow shoeing to cross-country skiing to things I can’t mention but are so cool we had smiles plastered on our faces all day. It was awesome!
Finally, I needed to be in the mountains. I live in the flatlands otherwise known as Florida, and I like being near the ocean. But for me, there’s something about the mountains—I completely understand why John Muir said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” I gazed at the Rockies, took in the expansive alpine landscape, breathed the fresh mountain air, watched the silent snow fall, listened to absolute quiet that surrounds 7W Guest Ranch, and came away so refreshed. Being in the mountains is probably the thing I needed most. It gave me a mental and emotional reboot and reminded me that nature is my happy place; it’s where I find joy and rejuvenation.
Partway through the week—after one particularly amazing surprise—I was struck by what Epic Experience really offers cancer survivors: an opportunity to enjoy bucket-list-caliber, I-probably-would-not-have-done-this-in-my-lifetime adventures. Whether due to geographical, financial, health, family, or other constraints, some activities would have been out of reach for many of us, and through Epic, we participated in them for free. (I’m still shaking my head and smiling at the memories.) My goal is to help other cancer survivors enjoy this truly epic experience.