In November I turn 30 and approach my halfway point to cancer-free. Help me attend an international First Descents trip by donating to my fundraising page.
As I anxiously think about how I am going to provide enough content to keep talking about how much this First Descents trip means to me for three months, and brainstorm creative ways to fundraise for three months, I coincidentally read to the point one in my fellow FD1 camper’s book when describes her Moab experience. (Yes, one of my fellow campers published a biography, how cool is that? Check out The Courage Club, profits will go to help her pay for her continued treatments.)
I can’t help but reflect how similar my experience was similar to what she so eloquently describes –
“On top of that, cancer had stripped away so much of my identity that I no longer knew who I was. I knew Katie-before-cancer; I knew Katie-as-a-cancer-patient; Katie-after-cancer was a totally new person. I couldn’t just pretend that the last year hadn’t happened, but I also didn’t want the rest of my life to be defined by cancer. I was truly and deeply lost for the first time in my life.
It was at this precise moment of feeling confused and overwhelmed that I embarked on a trip with First Descents. First Descents is an outdoor adventure program that offers free, week-long trips of surfing, kayaking or climbing to young adult cancer survivors and fighters. I signed up to go rock climbing with them in Moab, Utah.
Arriving at the airport in Moab, I was a ball of nervous energy. I didn’t know if I’d get along with the other cancer fighters and survivors. I didn’t know if I’d be able to be myself, or even figure out who that self was. And mostly, I was afraid I wasn’t strong enough to get up that rock.
By the end of the first night in Moab, I knew I had nothing to be afraid of when it came to my fellow cancer fighters and survivors. They got me. They got my hang-ups, my fears, my dreams, my aches and my pains. I felt safe and understood around them in a way that I hadn’t since I was diagnosed. They were also fearless and determined. I watched them as they climbed the rocks without hesitation, getting banged up and cut up as they went, just powering onward and upward. They gave me the inspiration to believe that I could do the same.
My first few climbs were exhilarating. My body wasn’t perfect, but it was getting me up those rocks. I wasn’t failing, wasn’t falling; I was reaching the top, to be rewarded with incredible views of the Colorado River against burnt orange sandstones for as far as the eye could see.
It was on the second day, however, that I really discovered the beauty of what First Descents can do for your soul.
I’d decided to tackle what looked like a relatively difficult climb. There was a small ledge halfway up, and I’d consoled myself with the idea that I should be able to climb at least to the ledge, and could turn back there if need be. When I got to the ledge, however, I decided I wanted to go all the way. (Plus, I don’t think my chorus of supporters above and below me would have let me back down so easily.)
So, I started my way up the second half of the the climb. It was difficult, but I was getting creative, finding ways to scoot myself up, scrounging for every inch I could get. It wasn’t until about three feet from the top that I realized my muscles were completely spent. My legs and arms were shaking and I could not, for the life of me, reach the last big hold to pull myself to the top. I took several breaks, letting myself be held by the ropes while I tried to get my body ready to give it a go once again. I would rest, come back, and spend several minutes trying to work my way out, only to have my muscles fail me once again. I was getting increasingly desperate, wishing more and more that I could just quit. I didn’t see how I could possibly overcome this painful and difficult slump I’d gotten myself into.
Fortunately for me, I had a friend just a few feet away at the top, and she was not about to let me give up. I finally realized that I just had to dig deep and find the strength to keep going. I took a moment and allowed myself to pull up my most painful memories from the previous year. I thought about all of the physical pain I had endured against my will. I thought about uncomfortably long days spent just trying to survive another round of chemotherapy. I thought about the moments in the hospital recovering from my double mastectomy, and how hard I had to concentrate to live through the pain.
I felt a hard-won resilience coursing through my veins. If I could endure that pain, against my will, then I could endure this pain. I got back on the rock and this time, instead of being afraid of the pain and pulling back from it, I went into it. I allowed myself to really feel the strain in my muscles, to deeply experience the stress on my body. I used my knowledge of my own resilience to move through the pain, to move beyond it, to find those last few inches until my hand could grab onto that last big hold. In a moment of complete and utter relief I grabbed onto the hold and pulled myself up.
I have rarely felt so accomplished in my life. I conquered so much more than just a difficult climb that day.
I found myself through my body on that trip. Before it, I hadn’t understood just how resilient I’d become. Because of what I’d endured mentally and emotionally, I was now physically more capable. I had wondered who I was after cancer. How could I be someone who had cancer but was not defined by it? I found my answer out on that rock. Cancer had shaped me for the better. It had made me a stronger, braver, hardier version of my former self. It had given me this well of emotional, mental and physical resilience that could not be taken from me.” – The Courage Club (Katie A. Campbell)
In November I turn 30 and approach my halfway point to cancer-free. This year will be a celebration of life, but also a new experience I can lean on as the scans and tests continue for at least the next two years. Help me attend an international First Descents trip by donating here: https://support.firstdescents.org/clairej30
Learn more about Katie, and purchase her book The Courage Club.