I found out about Epic Experience through a magazine article in my oncologist’s office. After reading how Epic claimed to help adult cancer patients learn to “live beyond cancer,” I stole the magazine (I actually told my doctor I was taking it) and applied for camp. I was thrilled to be accepted as a camper in the summer of 2018.
In August of 2016 I was diagnosed with stage 4 mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), a terminal non-Hodgkin lymphoma with an extremely aggressive treatment regimen. I was told by my local hematology oncologist that there was not more than the standard of care that he could offer me.
After learning that “standard of care” meant that there really was not much hope beyond the statistical five-year average life span, I took my doctor’s advice and traveled to MD Anderson in Houston, Texas—the mecca of cancer care, where the leading MCL physician was accepting patients for a new clinical trial.
After a grueling week repeating all the tests, biopsies, and scans I had previously done back in my hometown of Boise, Idaho, I was accepted into the trial that I hoped would lengthen my life.
I began commuting the 3,600 miles round trip from Boise to Houston, sometimes as often as weekly, for the first 8 months of my treatment. Financially, my husband and I could only afford for me to travel so I traveled and got treated alone. I was sick, exhausted, and overwhelmed. I was terrified I was going to die, and I began to internalize my thoughts and fears.
After numerous trips to Houston, it was time for me to stay in Boise for my week long in-patient chemotherapy treatments. After being treated for a year, I was exhausted and worn out and opted not to have a stem cell transplant, receiving continual immunosuppressant infusions instead.
When I found Epic in the magazine article, I needed to decompress. I was anxious and weary, and while seemingly outwardly happy, I was struggling on the inside. No one seemed to understand my ongoing fears of recurrence, and I had become intolerant of most things, preferring to isolate myself rather than jump back into life. I needed a push.
Epic Experience sounded like just what I needed to give me a physical and mental boost and get my life and activity level back.The time spent at camp at the gorgeous 7W Ranch with my fellow campers and volunteers is almost indescribable. Much effort was given by Epic to address our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
We spent time reflecting in small groups about specific experiences relative to our diagnoses and recapped with the entire camp in the evening. We found our physical strength in kayaks on the Colorado River and upon horses in the mountains. We pushed ourselves to reach new limits physically and mentally. I found out that I was not alone in my feelings of fear and anxiety. I found comfort being with other cancer survivors openly discussing, laughing, and joking about our new lives.
I had no real expectation of what Epic Experience would be like, but I came away with a life change. My time at Epic rejuvenated my spirit, reminding me what life was like before cancer.
I came away with a new sense of family as well as the knowledge that regardless of my health status, I am capable of conquering anything I put my mind to. Since returning from camp I have re-initiated my dancing (I was an avid ballroom and social swing dancer), I have continued walking and hiking, and I was inspired to fulfill a lifelong dream—I wrote a book!
I am forever grateful for my Epic family and my time spent at camp. I am hopeful to volunteer at future camps as I not only want to give back for what I have received but I want to be able to participate in the joy of watching other cancer survivors find themselves again.
As for me, I will always take “Yard Sale” (camp name) with me. She is bold and outgoing, fun, strong, and fierce, afraid of nothing and able stand up in a kayak through rapids! Yard Sale is the person I always want to be.