I was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 when I was 27. When I first met with my oncologist to discuss my treatment, I saw the chemo drugs had a long list of side effects. My doctor told me that they had ways to manage those side effects. By the end of treatment, I had a gigantic tin full of pills, and I was completely numb to what was happening to me. The endless string of infusions, tests, scans, blood draws had beaten me down. Gradually, as I began to "thaw out" and realize what was happening to me, I experienced some additional side effects of treatment.... how am I supposed to manage the side effect of isolation? Does my doctor have a pill for that?!?
How do I manage the loss of self identity when I look in the mirror and don't recognize myself? How do I begin to forgive my body for betraying me? How do I manage to move forward when all I see is a bald head, puffy steroid face, and body that is 25 pounds heavier? How do I manage the loss of control over my life that was once so intensely focused on a 10-year plan? Pretty hard to do when the only timeline you hear is one of 5-year survival rates.
For me, all those emotional side effects were managed by chance when I decided to attend a First Descents camp. While I was googling every medical term I heard to try to better understand my treatment, I stumbled on a blog post about a kayak camp for young adults with cancer.
Before my year of treatment was even over, I found myself in Wisconsin at an FD camp. It is hard to describe exactly what goes on at camp. Without saying a word, I was instantly connected to all the other campers simply because of our shared experience of cancer. I guess the easiest way to describe it would be a week of discovery that you are not your cancer; it's the realization that you will not be victim to a word. The survivors that I met at camp showed me how to use this brush with mortality as a catalyst for creating a better self. There is an internal calm that comes from seeing that you are not alone and that these other survivors are moving on and living their lives beyond cancer. First Descents was the best treatment for my emotional scars. I came out of that camp with a renewed passion for life. As survivors, our reality challenges us to dig deeper. I decided then that I was going to control what I could control -- my recovery.
When I look down at that tin of pills now, all I see is a way to numb the pain, not move past it. The truth about survivorship is that the people who have the kind of support that First Descents gives have better survival rates. Medical science is just starting to catch on, and studies are showing that there is more to surviving cancer than pills and infusions. In my mind, Brad and the First Descents staff are so ahead of the game when it comes to cancer treatment. As campers, we use our experience in order to further evolve physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. My oncologist killed my cancer, for which I am grateful, but my First Descents family showed me that I am not confined to the constructs of a label, and they encourage me daily to get busy living.
I love you all!