Editor’s note: These are three different stories combined into one post from our friends at Epic Experience talking about the importance of the outdoors and adventure camps when dealing with cancer and thriving. Enjoy!
Colin Ferro (a.k.a. Wingman)
I will never forget my college experience, but that is for very different reasons than most college students. It was not because of the endless parties, staying up all night, or enjoying my independence. It was because during my junior year, I was with my older brother when he heard the words “You have cancer.”
I didn’t know how to support him. There was my best friend and brother, looking like the world as he knew it had dropped out beneath him. I did the one thing I knew I could do and what he always loved about our relationship: I made him smile and laugh in an uncomfortable situation.
The rest of college was a roller coaster ride as I tried to support my brother emotionally during this cancer journey. This roller coaster led me to a path in life I never would have imagined: making a career in the nonprofit space and working for a cancer organization called Epic Experience.
After my brother’s journey, I had become very passionate about the cancer community. I wanted to be a part of it and shine light in what could be a dark time for many impacted by their own cancer diagnosis. People often ask if working in the cancer community is hard or depressing. It’s exactly the opposite. I am blessed to have so many amazing, genuine people come into my life with whom I can create memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.
At Epic Experience I have the honor of being the program director at our weeklong camps. In the summer, I encourage people to raft and kayak down the river. In the winter, I challenge them to run down hills in snow shoes. No matter what the season, I encourage adult cancer survivors and thrivers to play like kids again. At the core of all of this playing are the memories created, the conversations shared around the campfire, the laughter and smiles enjoyed while trying to learn something new and looking a little bit awkward, and the tears shared as we wonder if and when we will see each other again.
We all want to live till we are 100, but what good is that timeline if we aren’t making memories and celebrating each day? That is what my career at Epic Experience has given me—the celebration of each moment and each day.
Kelli Salmon (a.k.a. Warrior)
I first heard about Epic Experience from a fellow cancer thriver while I was hospitalized during my third round of chemo. Being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at 27 years old and pregnant was the most devastating news I have ever received. I can’t describe the feelings of isolation and loneliness I felt at that time. I had no idea there was a whole community out there to support people like me.
I decided to apply for camp after I finished treatment and was told I was in complete remission. I was hesitant because who else would be able to relate to what I had just been through? Who knew the pain of looking in the mirror every day and seeing a frail, bald reflection of what you used to be?
Within moments of meeting the other thrivers at camp, I knew I was not alone anymore. I had found a safe place to talk about the pains of cancer and how it has changed so much for me. I wasn’t alone for the first time in a long time.
I was able to find peace with things I had been holding onto. I found self-love and confidence again. I found the courage to press on with life and be grateful for every day I have been given. I have found all these things with the support from my Epic family. From long talks at camp, bonding over whitewater rafting, and joking about our bald heads, I finally found people who get it. The support from Epic has changed my life, and I’m forever grateful for the amazing things Epic does for the cancer community.
Laura Woodward (a.k.a. LaLa)
I was first introduced to Epic Experience through my job as a Hematology Oncology RN. I decided to sign up to be a medical volunteer for a weeklong winter camp. I had no idea what was truly in store for me. I spent a week bonding with wonderful people in the beauty of nature. Conversation flowed easily, and I was amazed at how easily I connected with campers on a personal level.
At work we are frequently so focused on treatment that we miss out on getting to know our patients outside of their cancer journey. At camp I really got to know how my work affects people, and hear from their side just how important each interaction is for my patients during treatment. I felt healed after spending this week connecting with others, serving others, and pushing our limits together. I felt healed from conversations with campers that struggled in ways I could understand personally.
My husband could see a difference in me as soon as I got home. My coworkers could tell I was refreshed and invigorated to provide total care for my patients, spending more time getting to know the person outside of their cancer diagnosis.
After having my children, I have not been able to volunteer for the weeklong camps. I miss it, but it lit such a fire in me that I have stayed on as a volunteer on the medical review board for Epic Experience. I am still friends with the camp attendees I was lucky enough to bond with over three years ago, and I want to make sure that as many people as possible can find their own healing through Epic Experience.
To contact Epic Experience and learn more visit https://www.epicexperience.org/.
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/.