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

 

Linda Lewis

Today I received some very sad news of the passing of a friend, Linda Lewis, who was diagnosed last year with acute myeloid leukemia. Linda was an amazing and accomplished woman, and you can read a bit about her in this article.

I was first “introduced” to Linda via her twin sister, Leora, who left a comment on one of my first blogs saying I might want to follow Linda on Twitter. I did, immediately, and quickly learned that Linda and I shared a very similar, somewhat dark sense of humour, and we both used it as a way of dealing with the crazy hands we had been dealt. We spent months tweeting each other back and forth, and she was hugely supportive of my blog and my writing, often sharing it with her followers.

Linda Lewis ‏@LindaOnLeukemia30 Mar

@steph_rebecca Thank you for sharing the hard truth. Thinking of you.

Linda Lewis ‏@LindaOnLeukemia8 Feb

@steph_rebecca If anyone is entitled to be an “emo wuss” you are. Thanks for your candour. See you around the Princess Margaritz someday

Linda Lewis ‏@LindaOnLeukemia22 Jan

@steph_rebecca you deserve to be grumpy! fyi, my nickname was also Brainer, but it was better than my other one in grade 8: the Prairies

Linda Lewis ‏@LindaOnLeukemia10 Jan

Worth reading: “@steph_rebecca: Cancer is a gift I’d like to return. New blog post: http://wp.me/p2VkE2-1N 

Linda Lewis ‏@LindaOnLeukemia26 Dec

@steph_rebecca: I shaved my head. http://wp.me/p2VkE2-1v ” Thank you for inspiring me to post a photo of me, the real me, as I look today

Recently, I planned to meet up with Linda at the hospital as I was finally starting to regain my strength. But it was at that time that her situation worsened, and we were not able to have our meeting.

I have thought about her every day, often checking her Twitter page for updates, as I realized I had grown quite dependent on hearing from her. Yesterday I emailed her sister to let her know I was thinking about Linda all the time and hoping she was okay. Leora emailed me this afternoon to let me know Linda had passed last night, in her home.

I can’t really express how I feel. To lose a friend I never got the chance to meet. To have my first real “cancer friend” loss. But I don’t even really want to try to express my feelings, because it isn’t about me. It’s about her family. Her children. Her sister. As someone who has a sister who doubles as a best friend, I can only imagine how hard that loss must be.

I hate cancer. I hate it so much.

Rest in peace, Linda. I promise to give cancer the big “EFF YOU” in your memory.