Living Beyond Cancer
BY Gail Fay
PUBLISHED May 04, 2016
Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group.
“You have cancer.” The first time I heard those words I was an otherwise healthy, physically fit, recently engaged 32-year-old. Cancer was definitely not part of the plan. We postponed the wedding, and I tried an intense juicing therapy. When that didn’t work, I opted for the traditional route: surgery, six rounds of chemo and a second-look laparoscopy. All clear! So I moved on.
We got married and started our new life as “Team Fay.” I worked, played soccer and generally lived life as if I never had cancer. I rarely talked about the things I’d lost—the ability to have children being chief. Fourteen years later, a different doctor in a different state repeated those fateful words. This time I was an otherwise healthy, physically fit, happily married 46-year-old. I wasn’t really scared that the ovarian cancer had come back in my lung, I was mad that I had to interrupt my life to deal with cancer again.
And once again, I did everything I could to relegate cancer to the sidelines, both during and after treatment. This included not talking about the side effects, even though this round of chemo really messed with my brain and my emotions. I didn’t want to be defined by cancer, so I just didn’t talk about it. So when I heard about a free adventure camp for adult cancer survivors, I didn’t seriously consider going. Epic Experience seeks to help cancer survivors become cancer thrivers and move past their diagnosis through kayaking, snowshoeing and other outdoor activities. Epic’s tagline is “Beyond Cancer.” Since I was already playing softball, lifting weights, running, traveling—basically doing everything in my power to live beyond cancer—I (somewhat arrogantly, perhaps) felt like I didn’t need this week. Plus, I’m not the Kumbaya, touchy-feely type. I had spent many years stuffing those cancer-related feelings, and I wasn’t too sure about spending a week talking about them.
After some discussion with two friends who were previous campers—who kept telling me about the beautiful ranch, the awesome activities and the times they laughed so hard their sides hurt—I finally decided, what the heck. It’s in Colorado, one of my favorite places on Earth. It’s in the snow, which I never see in Florida. And it’s free, which is always nice.
One word: awesome. No, incredible. No, EPIC.
It was everything my friends said it would be and more. I think each camper gets what he or she needs out of the week. Some need a break from working, paying bills, raising children and dealing with cancer. Some come away with renewed hope because they meet someone with the same diagnosis who is thriving. Some lose that sense of being alone because they meet people with the same chemo-related side effects or the same fears about leaving a child parentless. For some, camp offers the needed push to enjoy life to the fullest despite their diagnosis. For me, Epic Experience provided a mental and emotional reboot. Nature is my happy place, and for one glorious week, I gazed at the Rockies, breathed the fresh air and listened to the quiet. In these amazing surroundings, I snowshoed, skied, threw snowballs and laughed. It was like being a kid at camp—no responsibilities but showing up and having fun. The Epic volunteers took care of everything.
As expected, we did talk about feelings. And I survived. It was good for me to tell my small group about my cancer losses, cry with them, and live to tell about it. Contrary to what I like to think, I actually do need people and it actually does help to talk about things. Partway through my week in Colorado—after one particularly amazing activity—I was struck by what Epic Experience offers cancer survivors: an opportunity to enjoy bucket list-caliber, “I-probably-would-not-have-done-this-in-my-lifetime” adventures. Whether due to geographical, financial, health, family or other constraints, some activities would have been out of reach for many of us, and through Epic, we participated in them for free. (I’m still shaking my head and smiling at the memories.)
My goal now is to help other cancer survivors enjoy this truly epic experience. For more information about Epic Experience, go to www.epicexperience.org.