Thursday, September 2, 2010

I Don't Have Time for Cancer

Perhaps the most common reaction when faced with a cancer diagnosis is fear for your life, and I certainly had that, at least initially. I was lucky though, and was diagnosed early – stage II – so I never really thought that I might die. What bothered me most about cancer was the interruption to my life.

At the time of my diagnosis, I was the CEO of a small company, a whitewater canoe guide and an active volunteer with several different organizations. Just days before Memorial Day in 2006, I was told I had ovarian cancer, and I was immediately annoyed that I would have to be recovering from surgery and starting chemo during the fantastic Colorado summer! I labeled 2006 my “lost summer” as a result.

After four years guiding whitewater canoe trips on western rivers, I had just been handed my dream schedule with three trips on river sections I hadn’t done before. I was so looking forward to paddling the Dolores with its excellent rapids, the Colorado River above Moab and the famed five-day stretch of the Green River into Canyonlands National Park in Utah. I had never gotten that great a canoe schedule before, and I haven’t since. The only trip I got to do that summer was the guide trip three weeks before I was diagnosed. I still haven’t paddled the Dolores either!

As if that weren’t bad enough, I had just booked a trip to Alaska for the week after Memorial Day. Plane tickets had been purchased and reservations made for an adventure in Juneau three years in the making. It ended up being my one-year cancerversary celebration the following summer instead! I had been scheduled to present at two conferences, and had reservations at Mesa Verde – still one of the few national parks in the region I haven’t yet made it to.

I recognize my good fortune at having the luxury of annoyance rather than the fear of death. All things considered, I would take that again any day. But for a busy person like me with barely a free moment in my schedule to begin with, having to give up precious time in the mountains or on the river to sit in a chemo room, or lie on the couch recovering from surgery when the sun was shining was really trying.

I very much resented cancer’s interruption of my life, and the time required to fight the disease. . .time away from work that was important to me, traveling (which I love), and outdoor activities that feed my soul. It also cost me quite a bit of money – about $8,000 all told in doctor co-pays, prescription drugs and insurance deductibles. I would have put that money to such good use on awesome adventures if I hadn’t given it to cancer!

Four years later, summer is nearly over, and I just returned from the canoe trip for single survivors that I have been planning for the past five months. This weekend, 14 people joined us from across the country to embark on a three-day adventure on the Colorado River. Since I have been talking about providing services for the single survivor crowd for three years, this is a BIG deal for me – the start of something new and exciting! It was a big deal for them too. The trip was so rewarding and fun for us all. Here are just a few of the comments from the weekend:

“Thanks for four of the best days of my life. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve felt joy and at peace, and this weekend I felt both. Also, I feel hopeful again and inspired to get out there and really live. Thank you SOOO much!”

“I just wanted to say thank you for this weekend. It was something I really needed and came at the right time. I’m sure everyone on the trip had the best time of their lives, and you touched more lives than you can imagine - not just those attending, but those who are their friends, their family… etc. It’s quite amazing to see the change in people and you were the catalyst for that change. It was an honor to be a part of this event and I can’t thank you enough….”

The response has been tremendous, and we have a great database of people who are interested in future activities, even if three days camping on the river isn’t exactly their cup of tea or their schedule wouldn’t allow then to participate this time. We raised enough money to cover trip expenses above and beyond those generous organizations like Centennial Canoe Outfitters and Marmot who donated gear, Greek101 who donated t-shirts, and giving individuals who donated cash or frequent flier miles to provide travel scholarships. We couldn’t have done it without the non-profit sponsorship of Tamika & Friends, a rockstar planning committee, and river guides willing to donate their time and energy. Denver’s 9News did a feature story on the trip two weeks prior that generated local interest and added a few participants to the roster as well.

This entire experience has given me a feeling of profound gratitude for all of the amazing individuals who have contributed to making this trip happen, and created the foundation for a new organization to serve single survivors (Solo Survivors? Looking for a good name for the new venture – if you have ideas, email - would like for it to emphasize connection and relationship rather than alone-ness). If you are a single cancer survivor, and would like to be added to the mailing list for future events, please let us know.

Even if you are sick and tired of the hot weather and mosquitoes wherever you are, enjoy these last few weeks of summer. Get outside and do something fun. It will be cold before we know it, so appreciate the season and share it with friends.

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