The Recuperative Benefits of Nature: Camps for Cancer Patients, Survivors and Co-Survivors

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It’s the news no one ever expects to hear. The diagnosis is cancer and suddenly time is precious. After the initial shock wears off, many long to make the most of their lives. But what can a woman do when she feels limited by the confines of the Big C? How can cancer patients and survivors make new memories, emphasize the positive and forge friendships with others who share this surreal bond?

It may sound like wishful thinking, but Camp Mak-A-Dream in Gold Creek, Montana, offers an experience of a lifetime, at no cost, for cancer survivors ages 18 to 40. For one week, these special warriors can make new friendships while hiking, swimming, fishing or horseback riding in the great outdoors. For those who love indoor activities, participants can enjoy the art studio with pottery and jewelry making. At the end of the day, connecting with one another is what it’s all about, so campers can participate in cabin conversation time. No worries, because the onsite medical team can help those in the middle of their treatments by administering IV antibiotics, oral chemotherapy, blood tests, platelets and other advanced treatment.

Focusing on the curative through yoga, breathing and massage, Kokolulu Farm and Cancer Retreats help adults 18 and older “take control of their healing journey and diagnosis” with relevant, comprehensive workshops. Patients can relax in the scenic beauty of Hawaii for five days and four nights, and scholarships are available for qualified applicants.

For the truly adventurous, Survive & Thrive promises cancer patients travel and adventure in spectacular regions of North America. These expeditions usually last about one week, with the goal of helping participants “refocus their life after diagnosis and rebuild themselves.” Unlike the above-described programs of the Cassie Hines Shoes Cancer Foundation, those on an S&T expedition pay or fundraise for their journey of a lifetime. Prices vary based on the trip but it’s open to all 18- to 40-year-olds with cancer.

Volunteering often helps people handle their own difficult times. Through the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation, meaningful experiences, wellness programs and volunteering join forces in a trifecta that’s bound to kick the cancer blues to the curb. Diminish the depression and isolation that often accompanies this disease by seeing the greater needs of others in America or worldwide. The cost of the international adventure, open to all adults over 18, is $5,000, and partial and full scholarships are available.

First Descents organizes numerous adventures for cancer survivors throughout the year. With a mission that promotes “life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults 18 to 39 impacted by cancer,” this organization has an adventure for everyone’s expertise level. Whether it’s standup paddle boarding, rock climbing or enjoying the warmth of a campfire, a weeklong adventure allows cancer patients the benefit of getting out there. Stateside trips to Seattle, Washington, or Bentonville, Arkansas, include hiking trails, river rafting and a dude ranch. International immersion is also possible in places such as Ecuador for a two-week trip that combines adventuring in the Andes Mountains with culture and history.

In the heart of idyllic Idaho, cancer survivors enjoy the area’s tranquil surroundings through River Discovery, an organization that seeks to “inspire, empower and heal.” Swimming, rafting, paddle boarding, kayaking and hiking are integral aspects of programs geared for both teens and adults. These restorative journeys vary from one-day to six-day river adventures and incorporate paddle board classes as well as survivor and co-survivor retreats. Strengthening body, mind and spirit, activities can be tailored to accommodate participants’ limitations and fitness levels. Professional medical and mental health volunteers top off this top-notch program by providing guidance in nutrition, physical activity and other concerns. There’s even a sunrise retreat for widows of cancer so women can share and connect with others while enjoying yoga, massage and each other’s company.

The poignant testimonials of participants say it all. “When you have a child with cancer you spend an unbelievable amount of time dealing with their appointments, medications, side effects and emotions. All of this comes at a cost–time spent away from your other children. The River Discovery trip gave us a chance to get away from all the pressure and stress and enjoy each other fully. It was wonderful to be in the company of other families who understand and connect with you immediately,” said Lonnie, a mom who attended the one-day Youth/Teen Survivor and Family Adventure.

Participants of many camps describe lifelong friendships with other survivors, breathtaking, soul-healing scenery, and guides and staff who provide history and insight along with demonstrating a time-honored way of life along the river with traits such as respect, courage, responsibility and perseverance.

For specific details, check out the websites of these excellent organizations. ■

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