(First Descents offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same.)
I didn’t know what to expect or if I was going to get much out of it- it’s been 4 years since I was diagnosed, and 3 years out of treatment. I’m healed right? Life is back to normal. Well, the “new normal” anyway. But in a short period of time – I found a me that I am really proud of.
Let me just set the scene of how physically out of shape and klutzy I am. I was on the field hockey team for an entire season and never made a goal- not even in practice when you can aim right at it. My coach was so disappointed in me -she just stopped looking after 3 weeks. I have broken 3 bones in my life, all trying to do physical outdoor activities. After that kind of childhood, I gave up and stuck to art. I was good at it and the worst you could do it burn yourself mildly with wax when batik’ing.
So there was a level of frustration about my physical limitations -1) because I’m klutzy and have never been successful before 2) after all of my surgeries and reconstruction- muscles aren’t exactly where they should be on my chest-it’s a pretty weak area. And there was some old fashioned fear of just killing myself. I had all sorts of ways that was going to happen floating around in my head. The cord from the surf board would wrap itself around my legs and I would drown, I would snap my head in a wipe out, I would be knocked unconscious by the board after a wipe out and pass out and drown. I am not making this up. I am Murphy’s law-if it can happen – it will happen to me.
First Descents plans for campers to work on surfing for 3 days. They hired this awesome guy and his team, FarmDog to show us how it’s done. The weather was perfect, the waves were really little the first day- and then they got bigger each day, for a little more of a challenge. It was like Mother Nature had been in cahoots with First Descents. The first day- all of the 21 and 22 year olds were up on that board and taking it in. They were amazing. And I was wiping out. The instructors would go out with you and tell you when to take a wave, and give you a little shove in the right direction- as they yell-”Paddle, Paddle, Paddle!” And you paddle- like someone is chasing you. You want to get ahead of the wave with momentum, so when the wave hits your board, your going as fast as the wave and it picks you up. That’s when you try to stand- as fast as you can. Most of us got to our knees pretty quickly- and then maybe a knee and a foot. My first wave I caught – Chris (who turns out to be this amazing professional surfer-what is he doing helping the likes of me?) was my instructor and he told me just ride it in laying down on the board. That was freakin’ amazing! It was like being on a roller-coaster face first. Man that gave me such a high. I wanted more- I was willing to risk it. So for the next 2 days I tried my darnedest to get up on that board with feet- but I just would freak out when it was time to stand.
So on the last day- I was determined to stand on 2 feet. It was going to happen if it killed me. I don’t know- I just wanted to make this happen so badly. I am not sure why I put so much pressure on myself to do this. We worked on it all morning- I kept slapping myself back up on that board- wipe out after wipe out. At one point I did a DOUBLE somersault in my wipeout. I stood up like an Olympic gymnast after that one. It was too bad it was underwater, it was quite impressive! Everyone at this point went in for a break and lunch, they had come and conquered. Whatever level they achieved they seemed content with- except me. That’s when Danny Boy (Aaron) an awesome instructor from Australia who had the patience of a saint, stuck by me for 45 minutes- try after try. His legs were cramping, his face was a bit blue and he had to go to the bathroom- but he didn’t give up on me. And I will be forever grateful. I finally got up on that board and stood with 2 feet! Woohoo! And I had everybody cheering me on from the beach. It was awesome. I finally accomplished what I had set out to do. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it! That night- Gertie awarded my the “Shark Award” for my ocean accomplishments. I couldn’t believe it- I guess my fortitude and persistence paid off.
This blog entry is way too long as it is. But I couldn’t finish without mentioning the 13 amazing people I met. Some of them were still battling their cancer but they went out there with everything they had. We also had quite the support team- Daryl and Rec who were our camp counselors, StrongArm (amazing photographer who donated his talents for the week) and then we had a talented and loving Chef, Cha Cha from The Palette Fund who was dedicated to teaching us how good food can heal and be super delicious at the same time. And Cha Cha’s two side kicks- Munchkin & CityGirl. We all accomplished what we needed to and in the time it took us to do that- we made friends for life. It’s a funny thing this cancer thing- it instantly bonds you to people from all walks of life that never in a million years would you have met if it wasn’t for cancer.
Thanks everybody for sharing a little bit of your life with me- I’ll never forget you. And thanks First Descents for giving me a athletic victory – the first in my life- Take that Cancer! Suck it!