By Cathy Pipcho
This past July ‘21 I was given the opportunity to attend Epic Experience, a week long adventure camp held in the Colorado Rockies, to “experience life beyond cancer”. I had applied in ‘19 and was accepted after submitting an application, medical records and clearance from my doctor. After Epic’s own medical review I was notified I’d be at camp July ‘20. Last year had different plans for all of us but a few months ago when Covid numbers fell and effective vaccines were available I was alerted it was a go if medically reapproved.
Camp, open to the adult cancer community, is held both summer and winter months. I felt extremely confident applying but once planning my flight, I started creating mental roadblocks. I overthought everything: flying during a pandemic, the high altitude, potentially risky activities for a 61 year old and being a disappointment if a young survivor got stuck with me as a bunk mate. Of course the ever present voice whispering in my ear “what about your late effects after 31+ years”? My confidence plummeted!
Once there, around fellow Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivors, volunteer cancer survivors, the camp founders and staff, the roadblocks disappeared. Being at the second oldest dude ranch in the stunning Colorado Rockies coupled with a camp full of supportive people mixed with a deep sense of gratitude enabled me to say YES to anything offered! I was there for a once in a lifetime experience and saying yes saw me participating in” last man standing” against 20-30 year olds on an overturned raft in the Colorado River! Camp agenda activities were secretive yet fit the bill for living beyond cancer. Epic offered me experiences I never would have had. Incredibly this camp is open to older adult survivors, unique to Epic.
Susan, my roomie, younger than I by a decade and a 36 year survivor, was the perfect bunk mate and became my new friend for life. Daily activities with younger fellow HL survivors created a mutually beneficial dynamic. We all had HL in common but our treatments were markedly different with 3 having had recent bone marrow transplants. I did find it difficult to share everything about my late effect journey as not to create undo anxiety for the recent survivors. It was heartening to learn they were being followed up and were well aware of potential late effects. All were excellent advocates for their care, something that greatly impressed me. I learned a great deal from these survivors less than half my age.
My generation of survivors often carried on their battles with little support or understanding. A network of fellow patients and resources was not available before the internet. Make a Wish, community benefits and Go Fund Me’s didn’t exist. We were virtually on our own. Because of this I feel Epic Experience made an extraordinary impact at just the right time for me. Trying to manage late effects and get the care we deserve can be exhausting and if not careful we may forget to breathe and live and try just a little more today than yesterday, Live!
The last night at the ranch a special ceremony was held culminating with time spent alone somewhere on the property. I picked the burned down owner's home. All that remained among the charred belongings was a stone foundation among the towering quaking aspens . It was here that flashbacks of the life I have lived in spite of having cancer 3 times, the gratitude felt that I was physically able to participate, seeing the Rockies before me and having a tribe of survivors for support. Quite the symbol, strong foundation among the beautiful vista with charred remnants scattered about. I’m sure you all can relate!
Hodgkin’s International enhances survivors' lives with connection, education and support. The Epic Experience Family and donors enhance survivors lives by empowering them to live beyond cancer. Two nonprofits working tirelessly with you and me in mind. Thank you to all for their efforts and thank you to their donors making it all possible.
To learn more about Epic Experience Beyond Cancer visit https://www.epicexperience.org/.