Hey oh! This is DotCom (my camp nickname), coming to you live from First Descents Surfing Trip in North Carolina. Our fearless leader, Pita, asked if I'd mind writing up a paragaph or two on my first couple of days here at Cancer Camp. As they (and you) all know by now, brevity ain't the Berg's (or the Com's) game, but I will desperately try to fill you in on what this experience is like, and why it is so important for cancer patients to connect with each other.
In case you don't know about First Descents, it's an awesome organization out of Denver, CO that brings young adult cancer survivors on outdoor trips. (Rich readers: Give them all your money so we can keep coming back, because First Descents is awesome. Also can I borrow five dollars?) The trips range from surfing to rock climbing to kayaking, in an ever-growing list of beautiful places both here and abroad.
Although I'd been encouraged by friends for years to go on an FD trip, I was hesitant to come on this trip for a variety of reasons: I'm lazy and was afraid I'd suck at the physical challenges; I was afraid my cancer wasn't legit enough to come; I was terrified the ultra-healthy menu didn't include Entenman's Pop 'Ems and Evan Williams whiskey.
But I should not have feared. This experience is one I had to have.
On Saturday, our first night here, our lovely camp counselors asked us to write down our first impressions of the trip. The literal first thought I had when we were all together around the dining table, all fourteen of us was: CANCER!
Everyone here at First Descents Surf Camp in Nags Head, North Carolina has totally had cancer.
That was my literal first impression.
It's not a keen one. Duh, we all have or had cancer. But this was the first time I'd been around such a large group of young adults facing serious health and lifestyle endangerment due to illness. I have a host of friends, but their worst ailment is an STD or nine. (JUST KIDDING! They all have healthy sex parts.)
This was gratifying but scary too: my cancer was relatively easy in comparison and I felt like I was taking advantage. But then I remembered all them other diseases and relaxed: this wasn't a one up game. And there's been a real shortage of whining about our shitty luck and failed immune systems. In fact I've only heard myself, but ONLY because I stubbed my toe jumping in our backyard pool and it really hurts.
The kid gloves are off; there's no prompting us to share our feelings or even what type of cancer we had, which prevents a lot of the little known cancer game: My Stage Is Worse Than Your Stage. Illness can make us self-centered and insecure, but this retreat encourages us, very subtly to listen to each other, and find ourselves through our cancer similarities.
Simply put, it's organic and natural, just like the hippie dippy almond milk they serve us.
We've only had one day of activity so far, but the challenges are very real and about to be amped up in about 15 minutes when we hit the ocean for surf lessons. I was thinking about my own exercise attempts as of late--running and hiking after years of laying down and eating those Pop 'Ems in bed--and how the pain is almost like a drug to me. It's something I created because I was willing to challenge my body to do something productive.
It's a choice we are all making this week. Our bodies are not perfect. They have failed us in very big and real ways. But the value in challenging us to live beyond that, and to share and connect with each other in real and meaningful and silly ways, is immeasurable.
And so, so necessary.
Check out First Descent's web page to learn more about the organization. And definitely go on a trip if you are able to! Thanks, FD!