I was fortunate enough to be an Epic Experience camper in the June 2018 group fondly known as Big Girl Panties, as in pull them up and get on with your life. I had an incredible time; came to understand, respect, and love the new me (my after-cancer-treatment self); and made lifelong new besties. Camp was inspirational, motivational, and eye-opening, and I learned I really can do whatever I put my mind to.
So, I put my mind to volunteering. Now, please understand I am a consummate volunteer, having done so for nearly all of my adult life in such capacities as teaching middle school children how to read (yes, unfortunately, there really are 12-year-olds who do not know how to read), holding hands of hospice patients, facilitating grief groups for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and even cooking weekly for years at a shelter for people experiencing homelessness. However, all of my volunteer efforts halted with my cancer diagnosis and did not resume until after I went to my Epic Experience camp. I knew then where my new volunteer home would be.
After camp, I jumped in immediately and started writing thank-you cards and get-well cards as well as the unfortunate condolence card—this goes with the territory of cancer. I then took on more volunteer responsibilities by fundraising and helping in the background with the camps. This then morphed to an occasional paragraph or two on grant applications and joining the Alumni Team, and finally, the pièce de résistance, volunteering at camp.
The first week of June 2019, I hopped on a plane and took my Yard Sale persona to Colorado to volunteer with several others, including a couple medical staff and a former camper/chef—and, oh my, what an eye opening experience that was!
It goes without saying that when you hang out with a group of people who go by names such as Dexter, Iggy, Georgia, Peppermint, Java, Shenanigans, and Mayor, things may not always be as they seem. The bulk of us volunteers converged on the ranch the day before the campers arrived, and we started getting a feel for each other’s personalities and time schedules; we were, after all, bunking together and working together. Within a matter of minutes, it became quite clear this was going to be a hoot; these people were fun!
By the time the campers arrived we volunteers already had a few good laughs behind us and were looking forward to assisting the new campers with their Epic Experience. We jumped in immediately and did our best to make each person feel comfortable and at home. We tried to learn each other’s pseudonyms; Yard Sale seemed to either be too difficult a name or too easy to make fun of and it turned into Lunch Bag, Ziploc, and Garbage Truck. No matter. I felt the love and answered to them all.
Being on the volunteer side of camp was a truly enlightening experience and gave me a different perspective regarding what goes into an Epic Experience camp. What an even bigger appreciation I have now for the volunteers who have gone before me and will follow.
We cooked, cleaned, prepped for the next day, then cooked, cleaned, and did it all over again. We made coffee by the truckloads and filled the water dispenser with buckets of ice and what seemed like dozens of fresh lemons and gallons of water. We had to get creative with meals as Mama Lou was ill the first few days of camp—way to go Iggy, who took the lead on this. We shopped, hauled, lifted, carted, scheduled, helped, photographed, and drove behind the scenes as we encouraged, laughed, and cried with; bandaged a toe of, handed out masks and hand sanitizer to, doled out Ibuprofen to, and loved on the campers. There were bumps and bruises, tears and joys, songs, skits and campfires. We learned that Dexter was not just another pretty face playing a doctor, but a fine corn hole player; yes, he and his partner beat out Wingman and his partner and me and my partner for the title of champion—a feat not many have done (the beating Wingman part, that is).
I guess I could say that I expected some of what happened; I had, after all, been a camper just the year before, so I remembered most of the fun and adventures. But what I hadn’t expected was the profound sense of accomplishment as the week came to a close. I noticed that for me, the experience of camp came flooding back tenfold as a volunteer. I remembered the lessons I had personally learned and taken with me. I was reminded of the fact that the new me was whatever perspective I wanted to give to that identity—I could be happy, helpful and still make an effective difference to others. I remembered why, one year after attending camp, I still sign my name as Yard Sale—because she is a fighter, a patient and tolerant person who is giving of herself. She is the part of me that shines brightest.
I left my volunteering week with another new family of lifelong best friends, a group I know I can reach out to any time for any reason and they will answer. They get me and I get them. We are survivors and thrivers and we are Epic!