“No, No. Don’t make me go!” pretty much summed up how I felt as I lined up my gear for departure. I was stuck. I had promised to attend, a slot was held and my gentle husband expressed rare firmness as he guided me to the door. The rental car arrived and I was on my way in a snappy red car. My mood improved within minutes and I knew the decision to take this solo quest across four states, 700 miles and a vast, low population region to gather with other ovarian cancer sisters from across the country was more than sound.
Camp Mak-A-Dream was my destination. Originally designed for children with cancer, it now adds in sessions for women with ovarian or other (non-breast) cancers – an under-served population. I have enough friends that are camp zealots to apply eventually for one of the free slots (It’s all free!) even though I was reluctant to attend “camp.” Would it be one more humiliation in my new norm – life in cancer world? But the new norm is all about letting go of ego; few of us make it through frontline treatments without losing control of every possible bodily function. Hairless and facing death, you are challenged to let go of all presumptions about what makes you important.
Nonetheless, choosing camp over an annual gathering of my organizing colleagues seemed a harsh statement. But I went to regain my groove.
Diagnosed in April 2010. Recurred in October of 2011. Still in my first recurrence two years and seven months later, it seems that I am now taking a rebuilding break from treatment to test my body. Rather than just staring into the endless abyss of treatment towards death, I am committed to re-entering the world of living. I wanted the daring of a twelve-hour drive alone through such a massive landscape to remind myself of freedom from treatment. Where better to re-prioritize my life then with a group of sisters who need no back-story.
I arrived a day late to a room full of women partying hard and yet quick to abandon their fun to greet me. I settled into my assigned cabin, found the Art Barn
and, once oriented, bedded down to ready for a full weekend of activities. Time to climb the climbing wall, ride horses, zip line, attend a sex discussion for women living with hacked into bodies, screen the most excellent movie N.E.D (No Evidence of Disease – the rock band of GYN-Oncologists committed to giving solace to those living with disease and educating on symptoms.) And more….
The landscape is lovely. The camp is built around a subtly steep butte that we are all challenged to climb and we do, at paces that befit our bodies’ status, but no one avoided the challenge. Impressive indeed.
The staff and volunteers create a culture of cheer. It is a cheer that pervades the camp but never crowds out the awareness of mortality each women carries, the 18 deaths of campers in the past year are honored, the women in current crisis or hospice are talked about and tears of sadness blend in well as we exchange treatment realities and hopes. It is a setting of Livingly Dying.
I will close with what I loved most – the women supporting each other with mirth and attentiveness as we took on the challenge of rebuilding confidence in life. The zip line requires that you step off from the tree house ledge into open air. That step is huge. Some women froze as the minutes ticked on. From below we would cheer, reminding the temporarily stuck person that this was nothing compared to what we have already lived through – we cheered for however long it took. And then we each jumped into the abyss of life.