First Descents

I'm in a bed in a lodge near Vail, Colorado. Next to me sleeps one of my fellow campers from First Descents (FD).

There were about 15 of us on that trip I took to the Outer Banks in June. We learned to surf. Our ages ranged from 21-38. There were more girls than boys. We kayaked and swam and at night played games and eventually we could talk about cancer, how it had ruined and invigorated us, how we were trying to live our new lives as survivors and patients. How to raise children and buy houses and live like our life expectancy hadn't been trimmed the day we were diagnosed.

We had an amazing week. It was special; we all felt it. A few months later, the organization (which is quite large and ran 50+ kayaking, surfing and climbing camps last year) announced our camp had won the Golden Paddle Award. Usually awarded to the highest individual fundraiser, our camp was the first collective recipient. First Descents believed we embodied the spirit, the connection and the dedication to the organization.

The award will be given out tomorrow night at the annual FD Gala. I've been tapped to accept the award on stage and ask the partygoers to remember Hardcore, our beautiful friend and fellow camper who died last week. I will also ask the gala to stop for a moment and remember the campers who have died from cancer.

Tonight, as we drove home from an FD-sponsored happy hour, I felt sunk, instead of buoyed by my fellow FD-ers who had been able to make the trip.

Although we text every day, physically witnessing friends who have become so close to me struggle in pain is awful, heart-wrenching and nauseating; I now have an inkling of how my friends and family have felt watching me. Knowing that some of these friends I've made will succumb to cancer before me guts me as well. These are people who I have known 10 months yet am closer with than friends i've had for years, for the simple reason that they understand. Simply, very simply: they have been there, and they understand.

When I met my friends at the gate in Denver today, we immediately started up laughing and joking, discussing painkillers and poop, and tearing up over the loss of Hardcore.

This community has changed me. It has changed my life and the lives of others for the better. And it has taught me loss. It will keep teaching me loss.

Tonight, as I looked around at sick friends at the bar, I cursed this fucking disease. And I remembered life isn't about big moments; it's about these connections and the hope they give us. It's about the small moments of love and connection that become so large when you look back on your life.

And that's what I'll say tomorrow night as I accept the award on behalf of my camp. FD is hope. FD is power. FD is love.

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