To an outsider, a group of young adults impacted by cancer sharing their experiences around a campfire might sound like a pity party in trading health horror stories. However, my experience at two weeklong “cancer camps” this summer was nothing but transformative, healing and fun.
While I was undergoing treatment, I found two nonprofit organizations that serve young adults (18-39) by offering free adventure trips. As with many things on the internet, I was apprehensive at first. I was putting trust in total strangers and I admit that the programs sounded a little too good to be true. The second I got off the plane I was proved pleasantly wrong.
I joked, “If I have to deal with cancer then I night as well get something out of it.” A free vacation sounded great, but I left with so much more than that. During treatment, I didn’t have time to connect with other patients in person, much less seek out people my own age affected by cancer, so establishing relationships with other people who have gone through similar journeys helped normalize what I went through.
Now celebrating its 20th year, First Descents provides “provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions.” I chose a rock climbing trip in Estes Park, Colorado but the nonprofit also offers kayaking, ice climbing and surfing trips as well.
Rock climbing is daunting for a first time climber but First Descents stresses a “challenge by choice” philosophy. Most of our group had little to no climbing experience, but by the end of the week we were in awe of what we were capable of. There was a group of 13 of us and we were waited on hand and foot by a team of chefs, “camp moms” and staff members of the Colorado Mountain School, who served as our rock-climbing guides. Delicious, healthy meals were prepared for us breakfast, lunch and dinner, which gave us the energy needed to tackle the crag each day.
Base2Summit, Cassie Hines Shoe Cancer Foundation
I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Michigan aside from the state having as many lakes as New Orleans has potholes, and I was taken aback by how beautiful Northern Michigan is. Cassie Hines Shoe Cancer Foundation began as a way to fund travel to other cancer camps, and the nonprofit started its own camp in 2018 on the shores of Lake Burt’s crystalline waters. The week featured a stay in a lake house with four other cancer patients and two staff members and each day had featured a different activity: hiking, zip lining, a farm tour, a bike ride around Mackinac Island and a sail boat excursion around Lake Michigan.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Karen, Cassie’s mom and Grace, Cassie’s sister as well any Zach and Dana, our camp leaders for the week, who took us out kayaking on Lake Burt and cooked delicious meals with produce selected from small roadside stands.
I was initially attracted to both programs because I’ve always been active and enjoyed activities such as kayaking and hiking prior to my cancer diagnosis. I wasn’t going to let The Big C stop me from doing what I love so I signed up for both free adventures because I wanted to get out in nature. I came back home with things I didn’t know I needed: a new support system, a better sense of self and a better understanding of my new normal.
Christy Lorio is an Ochsner patient being treated for stage IV colorectal cancer. A New Orleans area native, she is pursuing an MFA in creative writing at The University of New Orleans.
Learn more about cancer screenings at Ochsner.