Camp Cancerful

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!

Camp Cancerful!

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.

dot climbing

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.


yay cancer!

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.

15 thoughts on “Camp Cancerful

  1. Well done Dude!!

    Meeting Ludo next week in the Kong.

    We will try to find some ice climbing or similar activities…


  2. Your words made me laugh and cry. I love that you had this experience. I love that you found these friends. Now they are friends for life. It reminded me that, for years, my brother ran in a race (well, walked the distance) to raise money for cancer research. Those who had cancer got to know each other and looked forward to seeing each other. He participated for the last time just 7 weeks before he died. It was so hard for him to do it, but he always felt so great at the end. Keep living!

  3. Hi, I did the Ice Climbing trip the week before you did, I caught this linked from whiskers/Paco/Emily Hansen’s Facebook page. I can’t even begin to echo how you feel, well…because I feel that way too! I am so glad that you got out there and had an amazing experience! Feel free to connect, this ear is always open, I mean we are both in the club no one wants to join, lol.
    aka Hoopy

  4. Nice to hear every bit of this. Inspiring. And so cool you got so much out of it. I get every word (particularly the love of being around people you don’t need to figure out how to explain what you’re going through. Every other day, someone asks me how I am and I take a moment to figure out the f–k to respond — short, long, or something in between). I just went to First Descents website hoping I could take part but it’s only for you youngsters 🙂 — 18 to 39 year-olds. I’m 48. I don’t feel any different than a 39-year-old, or maybe even a 26-year-old, so I’ll take your report as inspiration to look for something a little like it. There’s gotta be somethin’ out there! Anyway, thrilled you went and got what you got, and that you’re still writing that musical!

  5. Hello AGAIN yes it is so good to be able to say that to you. so you got to climb mountains which i suspect that will make some people really envious of that a achievement, so well done you! what’s next i wonder, watch this space is the right answer.

    • Charlie (if that is your real name….) it was great to get to know you a bit and a pleasure to climb with you. Great write up. Keep kickin’ ass. ~ C Read (Book)

  6. This was so inspiring. Our 28 year old daughter and single mother of a precious 2 year old was diagnosed 3 weeks ago with Grade 4 glioblastoma (or as we call him “Cleatus”). Good to have laughter and joy and hope. Thanks for sharing your story for those of us who are drowning in our own. I want to so hug you!

  7. I’m so honored to have read this and to have had a glimpse into this wonderful experience. Chad, you’re so honest. You’re brave and wonderful. You know what we all go through but you say it loudly and, well….Chad…thank you.

  8. No one will ever be able to say you wasted your life. your attitude alone is incredible and probably playing a big part of you still being able to keep doing. Just love this, I’ll show Aunt Dottie it will brighten her day.

  9. This looks amazingly awesome!! So glad you were invited to do this and that you had such a wonderful experience. Love you, Linda

  10. Once again your courage and determined attitude shine through. It sounds like you had an incredible experience in a breathtakingly place.
    You continue to inspire!

  11. So glad you had an amazing camp experience! Welcome to the FD family! I went on my first camp last summer and being a part of the FD community has changed my life. They probably told you this, but there are alumni groups all over the country so the awesomeness can continue long after camp ends. Check it out! –“Green”

  12. I would love to be part of your group! I am 39 and completed treatment for stage 3 cervical cancer 4 months ago!!! I am very athletic and have beat cancer 👏🙏


  13. Pingback: Cure Yourself | ADVENTURES WITH BEC

  14. I just found your blog and love it! I am a brain cancer warrior, too (astrocytoma grade II). I live in DC now, but I did my treatment at Cedars-Sinai as well. Saw Dr. Hu, too! I’ve been stable for four years now. I am going on a First Descents trip this summer – very excited!

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