Last week I did something I never thought I’d do. Wait, no– I did two things I never thought I’d do:
1) I went to Cancer Camp.
2) I went ice climbing. At Cancer Camp.
That’s right: last week, I flew all the way to Ouray, Colorado, to go ice climbing for a week with a dozen other Cancerful people. And all I got out of it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
To be honest, as recently as two weeks ago, neither Ice Climbing nor Cancer Camp sounded like things I really wanted to do with my finite number of alive days. But when I got a random call from an organization called First Descents, offering me “The Ice Climbing Adventure of a Cancerful Lifetime!” (for the record, that’s not really what they called it), I figured what the hell and said yes. I packed up some warm clothes, checked my reservations at the airport (I mean the intellectual/emotional kind), and I went to Ice Climbin’ Cancer Camp.
Boy do I not regret that move.
I’d heard about First Descents last year, when I was researching organizations that support the Cancerful through activities like art and exercise– things that won’t cure you for good, but can definitely cure you for a couple of hours, or even a couple of days at a time. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that my own personal cancer is incurable, and (possibly as a result) I am really into the idea of curing a moment. Or an hour. Or a day. Because then, you’re living. You’re not dying.
Last week, at Cancer Camp, I was happy to discover that I got cured every day. Pretty much all day, every day, in fact.
And I wasn’t the only one. There were 11 other Cancerfuls just like me who laughed and cried and sang and climbed, and cured themselves and each other, one moment at a time.
And I love every damn one of them.
And here they are… Camp Cancerful!
Beside all those beautiful people you see there being adorable and sweet and hilarious and kind and supportive, one of the best things about them was that they had cancer. Just like me.
Now they didn’t all have Super Awesome Incurable Brain Cancer like me (in fact only three of us were incurable– we called ourselves The Incurables, and we constantly lorded it over the Curables, because it was hilarious to do so and they thought so too), but they did have cancer. And man was that awesome.
I never would have expected this, but even though I barely knew any of these people, from the first day it was SUCH. A. RELIEF. JUST. TO. BE. AROUND. THEM.
Because we didn’t feel awkward around each other. We didn’t feel bad because we didn’t know what to say, or feel bad because we knew the other person didn’t know what to say. We finally for once didn’t feel any of that awkward I-have-cancer-and-you-don’t shit. We all had cancer, and so we didn’t have to give a shit about cancer. Since we all had it, then all we were to each other was people. People who had been through the exact same insane shit as we had.
Imagine that you’ve been living on the moon for three years, and no one else you know even knows what the moon looks like (except from afar), let alone knowing what it feels like to walk there and live there on a daily basis. It sucks. It’s hard. It’s really, really exhausting, in fact. On a daily basis.
But then, suddenly, you’re in a room with 12 other people who have moon badges just like you. They know! They know all of it. And they look at you, and they just smile.
I’ve never felt more relieved in my life. It was such a wonderful unexpected reprieve from one of the biggest Curses of the Cancerful (being alone with it) that at one point during dinner somebody just joyously shouted out “It’s just so fucking easy to be around you guys!!!” and everybody smiled and laughed and nodded and breathed a big fat collective sigh of relief. Because we all really needed to be around each other. And we were, and it was wonderful.
And then we went ice climbing. And that was pretty cool too.
I’m minimizing the ice climbing part, but it was also fun. And inspiring. Especially when you see someone who has cancer in their bones and has been through the chemo ringer only a few months ago just slamming ice picks into a 50 foot vertical wall and climbing all the way to the top despite her paralyzing fear of heights and her weakened body telling her to stop at every moment. And then watching her get up and go back and do it again the next day. Watching that shit cures cancer. And probably a lot of other things too.
I learned a lot at Cancer Camp. And one of the things I learned is that other Cancerful people like to laugh about their predicament just as much as I do. They’re relieved by it just as much as I am. And they really want to see a movie (a musical!) about cancer just as much as I want to make one for them.
So I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna do it for them because they accepted me and they laughed at my jokes and they made me laugh and they made me feel not alone and they even decided to name our group Camp Cancerful.
And that made me really happy. Every one of those people made me really happy.
See? Being Cancerful ain’t so bad! Sometimes it’s actually totally fuckin’ awesome.
So thanks, Camp Cancerful. I love all of you. Let’s all keep on curing each other.
And finally, I have to also thank the wonderful, kind, efficient, professionally understanding and generous people who make First Descents happen. They make it happen well. They are curing the Cancerful on a daily basis, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. If you think curing cancer is a good idea and you want to help them (or let them help you), go here. Believe me, it’s worth it.