15 August, 2014

Well, I just got back from one of the best trips of my life! I'm surprised my face doesn't hurt because it seems like all I've been doing for the past two weeks is laughing and smiling!  Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a whitewater kayaking adventure with an awesome organization called First Descents.  The program "offers young adult cancer survivors a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle, and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives, and connect with others doing the same."

I flew into Spokane, WA, where I met up with the group, then drove for about three hours through Idaho and into Tarkio, MT.  There were twelve participants and about 13 others (FD leaders, camp moms, chefs (thats right, we had our own chefs!), a photographer, and kayaking instructors).  On the drive over, we each got assigned a camp nickname.  I was sharing about all of my travels this summer and somehow the name "Manx" stuck as my nickname.  The lodge we stayed at was gorgeous and located on the shore of the Clark Fork of the Columbia River.  My roommate "Radish" and I had the privilege of sharing the caboose: an old train car that had been converted into a camping space.  It got a little toasty in there at times, but was a fun adventure nonetheless!

We started kayaking Monday morning and I felt really unstable, was horrible at steering, and flipped over twice.  It was terrifying at first and doubts filled my head.  What if I flip over and can't get out?  What if I hit my head on a rock?  What if I'm not strong enough to paddle for very long?   But our instructors were amazing and extremely helpful.  By that afternoon, all my fears were gone.  The first thing they taught us was how to escape if we flipped over.  They taught us how to maintain stability and to gain better control of our kayaks.  After only one day of learning, we were all a hundred times better than that morning.  It was gratifying to experience so much improvement so quickly.

On Tuesday, we began learning how to use our paddles to roll ourselves upright if we flipped over.  It was/is extremely difficult, but invigorating when I got it right!  I am incredibly grateful for the patience and willingness of our instructors to teach us how to kayak!  They were absolutely amazing!  We spent the rest of the week practicing our rolls, going through rapids, and simply enjoying the river and one another's company.

In the afternoons and evenings, we hung out around the gorgeous lodge, talking, eating, laughing, and playing games together.  This was a group of truly amazing people!  Everyone was positive, accepting, and encouraging to one another.  And on top of that, we had an awful lot of fun!  I'm not sure I've ever laughed so much in my life!

We had a campfire after dinner each night.  We spent time sharing stories from the week and opening up to one another about our experiences with cancer.  We talked about the river as a metaphor for life and shared all the lessons we could learn from it.  Each campfire concluded with giving awards to one another.  I was awarded the pink wig for being "genuine, caring, and cheerful" (thanks, Tiny!).

I had so much fun and enjoyed every minute of it!  It seems like I could write a ton about the week but, seeing as "a picture is worth a thousand words," I figured these photos may paint a better picture of what the week was like.

While I was sick and going through chemotherapy, I got used to staying home and being by myself.  I'd grown to be much more introverted than before.  But I used to be outgoing; I used to be adventurous; I used to be energetic.  Somehow I lost those aspects of myself.  But this week truly rekindled the adventurous spirit that I had before I got sick.  I re-learned the resilience and strength of my own body.  Each morning I thought to myself, I'm too tired for this; I don't have enough energy or strength to go kayaking for six hours!  But then I did it and somehow, amidst the spending of my physical energy, I was energized emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  This experience restored a part of myself that I hadn't even realized I'd lost and I am incredibly grateful! I learned so much about myself, others, and life in general and am so thankful to everyone that was a part of this experience!


P.S.  Thanks to everyone who let me use their photos!!
P.P.S.  I took some video footage on my go pro and will be sure to post some of it soon!