From Camper to Volunteer

Jay Campers, Volunteers

“Every day, I am reminded that our life’s journey is really about the people who touch us.”
—Stuart Scott, Every Day I Fight

When I first heard about Epic Experience in 2015, I was hesitant to apply. It wasn’t because I don’t like Colorado or free stuff or playing in the snow. It was partly because I didn’t think I needed the push to live beyond cancer; I had already moved on. I was playing softball, working out, and mentoring a high schooler. In addition, I had stuffed many cancer-related feelings deep down, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to share said feelings with complete strangers. In the end, the pull of being in the Rockies won, and I attended camp in February–March 2016.

It was incredible! This might sound melodramatic, but I truly haven’t been the same since. Being in those beautiful surroundings, skiing, snowshoeing, laughing till my sides hurt, meeting hope-filled survivors—Epic Experience provided a mental and emotional reboot. Plus, I learned an important lesson: it’s OK to be vulnerable with others. I shared some close-to-the heart things with my small group and felt comforted; I even cried with them and lived to tell about it. I also discovered that by pushing cancer to the sidelines—by not embracing that part of my life story and all the messy feelings that come with it—I was missing out on a huge opportunity to help others.

Over the next year, I thought about my week at camp, the people I met, the lessons I learned, and how all of that might be related to my purpose on this planet. I couldn’t shake the growing sense that I had beaten cancer twice for a reason, and that perhaps the reason was to support other cancer fighters. So, I decided to volunteer at an Epic Experience winter camp a year after I attended as a camper.

Without a doubt, volunteering was just as fun and meaningful as attending. Sure, I prepped food and washed dishes, but it hardly felt like work because we chatted and laughed the whole time. I also ran down hills in snowshoes with fellow adventurers, gazed at aspens with fellow outdoorsy types, and made connections with survivors from across the country. My life has been forever touched by the nine campers now known as Two Dudes and Seven Chicks—by the hope they showed in the midst of serious diagnoses and multiple recurrences; by their vulnerability and refusal to let cancer steal their joy. Their stories of fighting alone, having to be strong for others, and dealing with long-term side effects profoundly affected me.

My life was also enriched by the other volunteers, all of whom were cancer survivors or oncology nurses. These folks have had their own cancer hardships, disappointments, and reoccurrences, and yet they were out there giving and serving. We bonded over bacon frying, dish washing, wood stacking, driveway sledding, storytelling, and Rummikub playing. Volunteering introduced me to incredible likeminded peeps who share my love of nature, sense of humor, and desire to help others.

As a camper in 2016, I enjoyed the activities and scenery and took note of how the week was affecting me. This time, I witnessed the change and impact in others. As the week went on, I watched smiles break out more easily, heard more laughter, and noticed more openness in small group and campfire. As I watched the survivors interact with each other and the volunteers, I realized more clearly that Epic Experience is all about relationships; it’s about the people who touch our lives in the collective fight to live beyond cancer.

Now I’m back home, and I can’t stop thinking about the people I met and the experiences we shared. My week volunteering made it clear that I’ve found my place—helping other cancer survivors through Epic Experience. I’m so thankful to be part of this big, crazy, amazing family of cancer butt-kickers!

Keep fighting!
Sunshine =)