Camp Ukandu

photo-2Honestly, I don’t know many people who would get excited to go off to a “cancer camp”.  When I was first  diagnosed, it would certainly not have been something i’d have chosen to do; as I was reluctant to have anything more to do with cancer than I already did.But hopefully next summer, that excited camper will be me. That’s because for me, and quite a few other cancer patients/survivors, Camp Ukandu is  much more than that.

It’s a place where you can go and not have to worry about taking all your medicines at the right time, or feeling self conscious of your hair loss. Its a place where you can try new, adventurous things like rock climbing, obstacle courses, swimming, archery, & much more without your parents or doctors worrying over you. But more than anything, it’s a place where you can have fun, make new friends, and just be yourself without the heavy cloud of a terrible disease constantly hanging over your head.

Camp Ukandu, a camp specifically designed for cancer patients and their siblings, was a topic that came up this year, strongly recommended by caring hospital employees and enthusiastic friends. Even though I was open to giving it a try, there were other obstacles that sprang up in the way. For one, my daily life at home was no piece of cake. Everyday I wake up with some form of morning sickness, varying from severe to mild. There are also pills I must take at exact certain times and TPN that I get throughout the night. At the camp, there are medically trained nurses & doctors who have lots of experience with these things, but there was still a worry that away from home, things could get mixed up or have problems. There was definitely a lot of doubt as I went off to camp, but we trusted in our philosophy of trying to do normal things despite the circumstances. Our reasoning was; I could either feel bad all alone at home, or I could feel bad in a positive, fun environment. I’ve gotten the chance to do some amazing things through fighting cancer, all because I put aside my worries and trusted God.

I am so glad that I took the chance to go to Ukandu. There were tons of fun things to do, one of my favorites being art. Some of my best memories include weaving a friendship bracelet with other girls in my cabin, participating in the all camp photo challenge, playing the group games, making my own homemade bow and arrow, getting my hair and makeup done professionally, dancing with everyone at the dance, having a fancy candlelight dinner, riding in the golf cart, and of course, meeting a bunch of new friends. I felt comfortable there, more like myself, and (no offense to my parents,) not in the least homesick! I can guarantee there was no one there with a victim mentality or feeling sorry for themselves.

It was really bittersweet saying final farewells and hugging everyone goodbye at the end of camp. I found I couldn’t shut up about all the fun I had had while driving back home with my family and an elated (bordering on crazed) black and white puppy. 🙂 The thing that puzzled me the most was how something so centered on cancer could also have nothing to do with cancer. There was just an unspoken connection between everyone at camp. You didn’t have to say a word about diagnosis, doctors, or medicine. We understood.  I will never forget that week, and hope to return next summer. 

As a last note, I’d like to mention that Camp Ukandu used to be funded and sponsored by  the American Cancer Society until last year. The ACS chose instead to focus more of their efforts for more research instead of the camp. I’m totally for new research, but was a little sad by their decision. Camp impacted me in a huge way, and I’d love to give back by finding a way to help raise some money for it. I certainly know that this is a cause that has brought joy to me and so many other kids.

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Father’s Day

Kayaking Father's Day 2014

Kayaking Father’s Day 2014

There is such a variety in all  the types of fathers in the world, it’s pretty much like rolling a dice to see what you will get. Some fathers don’t even bother to spend time with their kids, let alone support and help them work towards their dreams. Good fathers can be harder to find than you might think. Personally, I feel pretty blessed to have the one that I do. Some good fathers will be there for you throughout childhood, offer you some wise advice, and support your goals and dreams. And yes, I’m lucky enough to have a dad who expertly accomplishes all of those things, but I also have a dad who has gone above and beyond for me in the toughest of times.

When I was first diagnosed with rare ASPS, he could have crumpled down and given up. He could have taken all of the tough blows our family has been hit by with a victim mentality. He could have focused on himself and how his life would now be affected.

But he didn’t. Both my dad and my mom rose to the challenge of fighting this stubborn, mysterious, tricky, & TERRIBLE cancer.  My dad researched cancer fighting foods and stocked the fridge and pantry with healthy food. He helped me create adapted exercise plans that would help strengthen parts of my body that were weak. I can always count on getting the best encouragement when I’m feeling kind of down or depressed from bad news.  He helps me on days when I feel bad, where my body & mind don’t want to do anything, and gives me that little (sometimes big, I admit!) shove I need to get out the door and face the day. My dad is the biggest motivator, cheerleader, helper, and teacher in my life.

Although my eyes were really opened to just how much my dad cares about me after my initial diagnosis, honestly, he’s always been there for me many times before that as well.

One memory that really sticks out to me was when I was first learning to ski, about 9 years old. I was terrified about almost everything to do with skiing; the lift, the uncomfortable space boots, and hurtling down a steep icy slope. And the experience was in no way an easy accomplishment. I fell on my rear countless number of times, tears staining my face as I gritted my teeth through the entire ordeal. Trust me, I was NOT a fast learning student!  I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to give up, sit down, take of my skis, and clomp down the hill on my own two feet. But for every wipeout, for every discouragement, for every fear, my dad was there to comfort, encourage, or show me the love I needed to give it another shot. I will never forget how my dad refused to give up on me that day. The incredible patience and perseverance he showed permanently stayed with me. It taught me one of many lessons I’ve learned through his example. Finally, when I managed to struggle to the bottom of the hill, I let out a big exhale. It felt wonderful.

I now watch him fight just as hard through every rejection we get from drug companies, as we desperately plead for an age exception to a possible life saving medicine (PD1 or PDL1) before its too late for me.

Since then, I’ve taken into account several lessons. I’ve learned not to just give up because something’s really, really, tough. I’ve learned to do the best you can with imperfect circumstances that you don’t necessarily understand. I’ve learned that sometimes the first step is the hardest, but once you get past it, you can do anything! I’ve learned that a positive mentality can turn around a situation faster than almost anything. I’ve learned that a little extra kindness just might make you a new friend. And all of these things I learned from, you guessed it, my dad! Through these indirect lessons, I’m inspired to become the best person I can be. I can’t think of  a better gift that my dad could give me. I’m so appreciative of all of the time and energy he’s poured into me, my interests, goals, and dreams. And most of all, I enjoy the time we spend together and the sense of humor we share.

So this Father’s Day,even though I could never repay him considering what he’s given me, all I want is for my dad to know how grateful and lucky I feel to have him as a father. I love you 🙂