So as you probably already know, I spent the past week in Colorado kayaking the great Colorado River with an awesome group of cancer survivors and the best adventure guides I’ve ever met.  It was a life changing experience made possible by the wonderful people at First Descents, an amazing non-profit organization that helps people affected by cancer.  If you haven’t heard of them yet, you have to check out their site right away!

Ok so now that you know what First Descents is all about, I wanted to give you a glimpse of our camp.  While I work away at distilling my own thoughts about camp and trying to preserve the memories forever, I would like to share with you the excellent recap written by one of my fellow campers.  In this note she posted to her Facebook page, she does an excellent job of capturing what our camp experience was all about.

Enjoy!

“Knuckles”

Camp “You’re Doin It, Dude!” by Melinda ‘Ta-tas’ Utendorf

I applied to go to First Descents kayaking camp for young cancer survivors with great reservations. Since I’m not exactly an outdoors-y, physical activities type of person I was very nervous that I would not be able to handle it. But things seemed to fall into place so easily that it was hard to think about not going. I happened to know 3 people who were going to be at the same camp, all of who I had previously met and liked so I decided to go for it.

My comfort zone was sure to be nowhere in sight during this week. Pushing through all of that, I hopped on my plane and flew to Denver, CO to meet up with the group. After that everything seemed to happen in a whirl. A good whirl, with tons of great memories.

The camp that we stayed at was pure beautiful nature. Literally outside my cabin was a gorgeous view of the mountains. I think the beauty alone could be beneficial and healing to a cancer patient. But that’s definitely not all there was to heal us.While this was a kayaking camp it was about so much more. The amazing staff, counselors, kayaking guides and volunteers had so much passion for nature and kayaking and so much compassion for the campers.

The kayaking guides all had so much patience, energy and humor that it was hard to believe that they don’t deal solely with cancer survivors 100% of the time but in actuality this was the first summer they had been with First Descents. Master Chief, Mateo, Burn, Flower, Ducky and Geordy all were part of our camp and made the experience so much better. There were volunteers like Sauce, Tex, Fuzzy and others who were there simply because they cared.

I will admit I was not the greatest at the kayaking part. It did not come easily to me in any sense of the word. However, with the help of Sauce, Master Chief and most surprising of all, Brad Ludden – the founder of FD himself- I was able to kayak through amazing rapids by myself, in my own boat and the thrill I got from that cannot be duplicated.

However camp really wasn’t about kayaking. Its wasn’t even about cancer. It was about the campers. My amazing fellow campers all inspired me in one way or another. By the end of the week I felt a connection with each of them in one way or another. There were 15 of us and that group seemed so large at the beginning of the week but by the end they really felt like family.Their stories were awe inspiring. Slam, who had cancer at age 6, walks with a prosthetic leg, and works with non profit agencies shared her awesome slam poetry with us. KYLF had a daughter with leukemia at a very young age and then had to deal with her own breast cancer a year later. Glisten, Avatar and Marhaba all had breast cancer at a young age and have been doing awesome things like mountain biking and kayaking to deal. Their energy, enthusiasm and spirit were inspiring. Empire was recently out of testicular cancer treatment in his 20’s, but the encouragement and support he offered was of someone way older. Loveseat also had breast cancer and her joy for life was inspiring. 6 and Boss both had brain cancer, 6 now works with a great young cancer non profit and Boss is dealing with high school. Skillet and Snotty were survivors who genuinely loved kayaking. Mary Poppins had a lot to deal with during camp but her energy was still positive and upbeat. Spedy, who had a bone marrow transplant in March is dealing with going to school for her Masters, but her spirit, humor and hilarious dancing skills were all inspiring to me. Knuckles has dealt with a rare form of liver cancer and kicked its ass 3 times now. His fight for life and his unabashed way of conquering his fears was amazing.

These people made this camp the greatest experience for me. Hearing their stories, their lives, and their adventures changed my life. Everyone truly put themselves out there and wore their hearts on their sleeves for all of us to see and learn from. We all got nicknames at camp and while we got closer and closer it was bizarre to realize we didn’t even know each other’s real names. Even more bizarre is that now I have a family that includes people of such wide backgrounds and personalities. I got more support, encouragement and kind words during this week than I have gotten in the last 3 by far.

Plus, and I think the most important part of the whole thing, I laughed more often and harder than I ever have. I have more inside jokes that no one will get in real life than ever before, which is why this family will have to stay together so someone will laugh.

“Guns don’t kill people. Chuck Norris kills people.” 

~Ta-Tas

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