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

 

The gifts of cancer

Not long after my most recent chemo treatment, I felt pretty awful. I, again, wanted to cut off my legs and arms. I took many, many drugs (I have a nice little pharmacy by my bedside these days) in an attempt to stop the pain and nausea spreading through my body. I felt so weak that I needed my husband to help keep me balanced while I walked from my couch to my bathroom. I nearly passed out while trying to get groceries with my mother. I thought, once again, this will never end. I will feel like this forever. I will never go outside again or see my friends again. I will never want to touch food again. I will never stop crying. Life stinks.

And then it passed. And I saw my friends. And I was laughing and running around (well, not running, but walking at a normal, non-zombie-like pace). And I was eating enough to feed a 300-pound man (which, as many people know, is how I eat under normal circumstances). I began to make plans and do things that didn’t involve lying in my bed all day with the shutters closed. I put on pants that didn’t have the word “sweat” in their name. I went out to a restaurant. I planned a spontaneous getaway with my husband to my grandfather’s place up in the country, in an attempt to escape from my surroundings for a bit and pretend that I even have the option to go on any type of vacation right now, like everyone else.

After I’ve been cooped up inside for a while, I find the sun blinds me. I believe I might be turning into a vampire, which wouldn’t be too bad.
After I’ve been cooped up inside for a while, I find the sun blinds me. I believe I might be turning into a vampire, which wouldn’t be too bad.
I got to hang out with my sister over her holidays. She’s pretty and she’s going to be a doctor.
I got to hang out with my sister over her holidays. She’s pretty and she’s going to be a doctor.

Nature
Nature
Creepily following my husband with my new fancy camera
Creepily following my husband with my new fancy camera

Couch-hanging. I've gotten really good at doing this
Couch-hanging. I’ve gotten really good at doing this

My grandma's rocking chair <3
My grandma’s rocking chair ❤
Don't mess with this guy while he's drinking wine and reading the Sunday Times
Don’t mess with this guy while he’s drinking wine and reading the Sunday Times

Some people like to talk of the “gifts” that cancer has given them. New perspectives on life, love, family. Realizing what is truly important in this world. During these nice moments over the past week or so, I did feel very grateful. To be feeling good, and happy, and loved. Feeling the sun on my face or the warmth of the fireplace. Spending time with my husband away from distractions, and away from the hospital. When you know what it feels like to feel like you are at death’s door, you tend to appreciate the moments when you feel good and healthy a lot more than the average person might.

That being said, you will never catch me talking about cancer as a “gift”. Sure, there are quite literally gifts, like this package that arrived from my friend Lily today.

A bunch of fun things, including an awesome polka dot scarf which will be perfect for my head. I love polka dots. Thanks Lil!!
A bunch of fun things, including an awesome polka dot scarf which will be perfect for my head. I love polka dots. Thanks Lil!!

I love getting stuff in the mail. It is one of the few things that really excites me these days and I appreciate everything you kind people have sent me.

However, cancer itself – NOT a gift. And to be honest, I kind of want to smack people who refer to it as such. I read a comment on an article I was reading, where a woman talked about all the blessings cancer had given her, and said she wouldn’t change anything if she had the chance, because she had been given these “gifts” as a result of her cancer.

Barf. That’s what I say to that.

I appreciated everything in my life pre-cancer. I have an amazing husband, family, and group of friends. I knew what I wanted out of life. My priorities were straight. I didn’t need cancer to “show me the way” or teach me the value of life. Sure, I might have a deeper appreciation for many things now than a lot of people do. But I’d much prefer not to have cancer, and to have my regular level of appreciation be restored. I am 28 years old. I don’t want to feel that each day is a blessing, because who knows how many days I/we all have left. I want to have many days left. And I want to be able to take that for granted. I am 28.

Cancer is not a gift. It’s an ugly, humiliating, miserable, frightening disease. There are nice moments throughout and small silver linings here and there. But this is no blessing. And if I had the opportunity to change it all and go back to being a regular boring person whom none of you would ever care to read about, would I? Hell yes.

But since I can’t do that, I will continue through this bizarre cycle of feeling like death and then coming back to life yet again.

And, of course, I will continue to accept your gifts, in the mail. Gladly. Because if cancer has taught me anything, it’s that getting presents is awesome.