A weekend at camp

Recently I had the opportunity to pretend I was a kid again and go to sleepover camp. Only this type of camp was a little different, because it was 100% female, no kids, booze-filled, and raised a ton of money for charity.

The “Health and Fitness Weekend” was in honour of Linda Lewis and all proceeds went directly to Wellspring. Linda’s twin sister, Leora, was one of the main organizers of the event and so generously invited me to come along. My sister accompanied me for the weekend and we had an amazing time, filled with delicious food, dance parties, new friends, and a few dozen mosquito bites (seriously… I have never seen so many mosquitoes in my life).

When we first arrived at Camp Manitou, us city girls were giddy over the site of the glistening water and all the greenery. We signed in at registration and then wandered into the woods to search for our cabin. Our cabin happened to be down a small incline, which was just perfect for clumsy ol’ me (i.e. I may have slammed into a big tree trunk once or twice to prevent myself from tumbling down the hill). The cabin was large, but still cozy, with several requisite bunk-beds, naturally. Since there weren’t too many of us, no one had to sleep on a top bunk, which was just fine with me. I never liked top bunks. #scaredycat

We soon met our cabin-mate, Susan, who works with Wellspring. As far as having to share a cabin in the woods with a stranger, we majorly lucked out with Susan. We had some good bonding moments over chasing mosquitos and killing them throughout the cabin.

Our first lunch meal was delicious and nutritious, as was every meal the entire weekend. Obviously since my central concern is always “what can I eat/when can I eat/why aren’t we eating,” I was pretty thrilled. Hunger was most definitely not an issue.

The weekend was structured with a jam-packed schedule each day, filled with numerous activities ranging from seminars, to aerobics, to yoga, to hiking, to boat rides, to pretty much anything you’d ever want to do during a weekend in the country. You could choose to do whatever you wanted, or not to do anything at all, which was perfect. No camp counsellors yelling at you to jump in the freezing lake and plenty of time to just lounge and read and relax. In other words, camp for adults is pretty fabulous.

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Lisa LaFlamme (anchor of CTV National News) was the MC for the weekend, and provided a lot of entertainment while we sat and ate our meals and listened to speeches. She also hosted an auction, where a ton more money was raised for Wellspring. I so badly wanted to jump up and shout “TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!” for every item, but since my current unemployment status means I don’t have extra cash to burn, I stayed in my seat and watched the other ladies duke it out for the prizes.

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We had a later addition to our cabin, Eva, who also works for Wellspring. When Eva was settling into the cabin, we got to talking, and she mentioned that she couldn’t do too much activity because she’d just had surgery.

“I had reconstruction last month because I had breast cancer,” she said.

“Oh, cool, I had breast cancer too!” I replied.

Ding ding ding! An instant friendship was forged. We talked all about our experiences and where we were at now and all the gory details. It’s pretty special, the way in which a shared cancer diagnosis can immediately make you comfortable enough with someone to talk about your bowel movements. Seriously. Eva and I had the exact same chemo regimen, and so it only took about two seconds for us to start swapping war stories. Yep, I remember that. Oh yep, that happened to me too. Cancer bonding at its finest.

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On the Saturday evening after dinner, Eva got up and made a speech in front of everyone and shared her story. She was awesome, and of course I cried, and I imagine many others did as well. But the crying did not stop there, oh no. Next up was Nikki, Linda’s beautiful daughter, who shared a poem she had written while her mom was going through cancer treatment, before she passed away. Her poem was filled with love and rage and blew everyone away. There was definitely not a dry eye in the room at that point. Nothing like a cathartic, good group cry. We then each lit a candle and sat in silence, in memory of someone close to us.

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After releasing a lot of emotions and wiping away our tears, we made our way over to a different part of the camp, where a bonfire was happening, complete with a guitarist playing songs, and of course – S’MORES. I can’t remember the last time I had a s’more, but wow, that is seriously one genius combo. Kudos to whoever the heck invented those things. Unfortunately, the bugs got the better of us again that night, attacking our faces and scalps and every inch of our poor little bitten bodies, so we cut the night a bit short and headed back to the cabin. We brought back s’mores for Susan and Eva, who were staying in to avoid the bugs, and they were very excited by the unexpected midnight snack. Cabin buddies gotta have each other’s backs.

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The weekend eventually came to an end, and we packed up our stuff, said bye to new friends, and headed back to the city. Itchy, smelly, exhausted, relaxed and happy. And of course, like any summer camp kid, sad to be home and wishing camp never had to end.

*High-res photos all taken by Sarah Lever

 

Naomi Angel

A few months ago, I wrote this entry about my friend Naomi. Late last night, my beautiful friend passed away, leaving many people to mourn the loss of a truly amazing woman.

I have thought of Naomi non-stop over the past several months, as her health began to deteriorate. I have missed her texts, and emails, and our lunch dates. I have sat at my computer at night, reading through all our old messages from the earlier cancer days, and looking through her photos, and praying for miracles.

Naomi and I had a truly unique friendship. Having “cancer friends” is a bond that only other “cancer friends” can really understand. Our friendship was not at all typical in any way. I have “hung out” with Naomi more times in the hospital than out of it. Our text messages and emails, although sometimes about work, family, etc., were most often about our cancer lives. Our lives.

We’d discuss arm exercises, and radiation CT’s, and MRI machines, and plan quick meet-ups in the waiting room. We talked about our hair and compared its post-chemo growth. I was completely jealous that Naomi’s hair and lashes were coming back so quickly. And she would assure me that mine would come back soon. I have sat with Naomi in the emergency room, helped her to the bathroom, changed her clothes for her (the end of one of her last emails to me was: Also, I realized that you and your mom both saw my bare ass at the hospital! Oh the indignities!). When the MRI tech asked questions about breast-feeding, we both looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Hello, we don’t have breasts! We understood each other in this way. Our secret friendship club.

The first week that Naomi and I started emailing each other, before actually meeting in person, I felt like a giddy teenager. My heart would skip a beat when I saw I had a new email from her, as we would write lengthy messages back and forth, talking about our treatments, our husbands, and how much cancer sucked. I was so happy I found her, even more so when I learned about her academic background and her general interests and realized we would totally be awesome friends in the real, non-cancer world. But sadly, we never really got to the non-cancer world together. Cancer was always there, until the very end.

Pic taken from Naomi's blog. She bought this fancy coat after her first brain surgery and demanded that the saleswoman bring her a bunch of fancy things to try on. She bought two expensive coats that day, and she was so excited to show them off. She looked beautiful, as always.
Pic taken from Naomi’s blog. She bought this fancy coat after her first brain surgery. She went to Anthropologie, sat down in the fitting room, and demanded that the saleswoman bring her a bunch of fancy things to try on. She bought two expensive coats that day, and she was so excited to show them off. She looked beautiful, as always.

I remember the first time I met Naomi in person, at a lunch spot near the hospital, in between our appointments. She was sitting on a bench in the sun, in a bright red coat. She looked so beautiful. Naomi had this amazing aura about her. She was so cool, and peaceful, and smart. I looked up to her. Even facing a tough prognosis, she always had so much hope. Her hope gave me hope. I was in awe of her.

When we would write to each other about our fears, she wrote to me: Focus on what’s happening now. The future will come when it’s ready, and it’s so hard to predict what life is going to bring. I loved her way of thinking, and her way with words. She always lifted me up, even when she was down.

I am so angry at cancer, for taking a wife from her husband, a young mom from her son… a daughter, a sister, a friend. It is all terribly unfair. But anger won’t bring her back, and it won’t take anyone’s pain away. So instead I will choose to think of all the good she brought into the world while she was here, and into my world, and how lucky I was to have known her for a short while. She was truly an angel.

My heart is with her family. I hope they know how much joy she brought to everyone who knew her and the impact she had on so many people’s lives.

On my life.

xo