This quote by Malcolm X represents literally what I believe in! Togetherness is a key factor when it comes to well-being.
Togetherness and the healing power of nature are exactly the two elements Epic Experience provides to cancer survivors, fighters, and thrivers.
I had completed active treatment for my primary brain cancer six months prior to participating in my week-long outdoor adventure camp. With twelve other cancer patients, I took on kayaking, horseback riding, stand-up paddling, and more. Lodging, food, gear, guides, nurses, a chef, etc.—everything was sponsored through Epic! Almost too good to be true!
Since my energy was slowly coming back after a year of chemotherapy, I enjoyed being physically active again. The one thing I was not prepared for, though, was cancer’s emotional aftermath.
While the world around me was moving on, my entire life had changed. I found myself sans career, sans doctor appointments that dictated most of my life over the past two years, and sans perspective.
Spending a week in the beautiful state of Colorado, on a ranch I instantly fell in love with, paired with profound conversations around the campfire and the loving care of all the volunteers, helped me to come out with a deeper understanding of what I care about and need in my future life.
Upon coming back home, I made the decision to not go back to work and dedicate my life to the cancer community instead. I am well aware that having this choice is a privilege denied to many—and I am very grateful for my outstanding German disability insurance.
I told Mama Lou that I wanted to be more involved. Only a couple weeks later, I became a member of Epic’s inaugural Alumni Team—a group of Epic Experience alumni who focus on engaging former campers through technology, activities, and volunteer opportunities (https://www.epicexperience.org/about/alumni-board/).
This past June, I had the opportunity to once again spend a wonderful week at the 7W ranch—this time as a volunteer.
Returning was bittersweet. Only three weeks before, our former camp chef, Expo (Granger Johnson), had passed unexpectedly. His cancer had returned, and his passing hit me hard.
Granger was an amazing man and chef, humble and kind, with a big love for the outdoors. During campfire, he did not talk much, but I got to listen to his words of advice whenever he felt like sharing in my small group. Granger’s food creations were more than delicious, and he would always put a smile on my face with the music he played while cooking. We teamed up during my first ever corn hole game, and I taught him a couple German words to share with his German wife.
I started questioning if my involvement in the cancer community was right for me. Would volunteering bring more sadness to my life? Would I lose more friends along the way? Do I really want to set myself up for this? It was only when I started changing my self-centered perspective that I saw it was not about me, myself, and I. As per Malcolm X: Replacing I with We is so much more rewarding.
Quickly, my doubts dissolved. Returning to the place where I met Expo was a beautiful opportunity to remember him.
As a volunteer at an Epic Experience summer camp, I spent quite some time in the kitchen. With my love for cooking, this was no punishment at all. To top it all off, volunteers are involved in many activities during the week, and I got to spend some time on (and in) the Colorado River again.
But the best part was being able to peek behind the scenes and witness change in other campers as the week progressed. From fear on day one to being thrilled about kayaking later in the week, Camp Memory Makers had it all!
With the group being a little older than the camp I attended myself, the dynamic was slightly different, too. But not in a bad way! Personally, I enjoyed the deep conversations during small groups better! I was able to truly listen this time around and learn from the campers’ life experiences. “It is going to be OK” will be one of my new mantras!
Epic has absolutely changed my life. Over the past year, I have made over 40 new Epic friends from all across the U.S. that I can’t wait to see again someday. The memories and pictures of both weeks together with the laughter, joy, celebrations, tears, emotions, hugs, and talks we shared will forever be with me.