On December 31st, 2014 our love affair started. You pursued me; in fact, I had no idea you were stalking me from afar for so long. Your cunning and manipulative pursuit brought me to my knees; literally. I didn’t choose you, but you chose me. You saw a vulnerable scared women, post-divorce and raising two kids, and you knew I was broken. Weak. You knew I was hanging onto my life by a thread, desperately working to weave my life back together. I had to surrender to your attachment to me like a victim who finally stops fighting her fate. There we were, at 2pm on the last day of the year, entangled in our abusive love affair.
The next 18 months you put me through Hell. You dragged me through 6 grueling months of chemo, 36 rounds of radiation, and 4 major surgeries. You ripped my life from me. You took my hair, my breasts, my self esteem, my hope for the future. You gutted me of everything that I was, and everything I was striving to become. You ended me.
But I ended us.
I was finally able to break away from your grip, running naked and scared towards freedom. A freedom I had only imagined would actually exist. A freedom without you.
Though you were physically gone from me, the pain and trauma you caused stayed. Every day it wrapped itself around me like a straight jacket, cutting of my new breaths of life. I couldn’t get you out of my mind, or off my skin. I tried everything. The stain of you would not fade.
Until I ran away. I ran away from my new life because you still haunted me. In a desperate quest to learn who I was without you, I ran away to an island far away. I left my job, family, and responsibilities behind. I had to fight this battle alone. Or so I thought.
I was able to run away to this island because of an organization named Project Koru. At the time I didn’t realize the impact this experience was going to have on my life. I was able to become family with 13 others who were running away from the same demon. We were all able to push our bodies and our minds further then we knew we could. We embarked on a journey of becoming, together. This experience is what saved me, and Project Koru gave me the strength and insight to become the woman I am today.
Today, the woman I am is a happy and chaotic mother of three, and the Executive Director of Project Koru. I am able to lead the organization that gave me so much.
As Executive Director, day-to-day operations for Project Koru are often administrative in nature – budgeting, forecasting, philanthropic asks, spreadsheets, and board meetings. Back in October, I was reimmersed into the koru continuum when I headed to Maui to manage Project Koru’s 41st Camp Koru program. To be honest, I struggled to take a pause from the priorities in my inbox for this trip.
I am SO glad I did. The magic of Koru and working alongside stellar volunteer leadership to support the lives of 15 young adult cancer survivors brings me back to our purpose at Project Koru.
When I work at camp, I walk the beach at night alone to decompress. I walk in the silence of the night, paying close attention to the sound of the waves, the mountains above me, and the ocean beside me. Without fail, I feel a wash of peace. Though the mountains are high, I know they are climbable. Though the ocean is vast, I know there’s a shore that can be reached. I know these things not only from my own journey through cancer and survivorship, but also by watching the campers. These survivors climb their mountains and swim their seas every day. Their mountains may be fear, infertility, loss of self, and lack of confidence. Their seas may be continued lifelong treatment, surgeries, scars.
Watching a survivor overcome mountains and oceans in one week is absolutely inspiring. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day to-do list, but these humble moments remind me of the beauty of our survivor-led organization.
So, as I walked along the beach, I thought – they’ll be back. As leaders, mentors, and community members, poised to support the next wave of survivors. I was where they are, and I’m honored to witness who they will become.
Just as one feels the pull to reach out to the person who ruined them, I need to reach out to Cancer and say, “look at me now”. Cancer tore me down, but it also allowed me to blossom into someone amazing. Much like a victim will never thank their assaulter, I will never thank cancer. But I will always remember the demon that broke me down, allowing my internal resilience to transform me into something more beautiful than I could have ever expected.
All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer. If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you! Please submit your idea at https://elephantsandtea.cdn-pi.com/contact/submissions/.