If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you know quite a bit about me. I’m a health nut, but I’m all for the occasional indulgence. I have a spoiled (but not too spoiled) dog named Luca who thinks she’s human. I’m a yogi, a musician, a teacher, and a cook. I’m earthy, but not to the point of dreadlocks, and quirky, but not in the cat lady sort of way. However, there are still some things you don’t know about me… My kitchen is an absolute disaster when I cook. The polished images you see on this blog? Off-camera, the “backstage” is inundated with dirty dishes and utter chaos. My garden needs badly to be weeded. Caffeine makes me laugh uncontrollably. I know, all these things are small and pretty insignificant. I’m just warming up for the big daddy of all blog confessions. I am a fighter, I am a survivor, and I have been navigating cancer for four years now.
I guess I’ve been trying to keep cancer in its own little compartment, apart from the sunny place I consider Spoon With Me to be. If you’ve had cancer, or been close to someone who has, you know the fear that comes with sharing news of “the big C”. Peoples’ reactions are like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get. I’ll sidestep my least favorite, and most insensitive responses, because I genuinely believe that people mean well and just don’t know what to say. My favorite responses come from good friends who know that all I need to hear is “What the hell? That sucks!!!”, and “I’m here for you, now let’s go on a bike ride!”.
I was 26 when I was diagnosed with Medullary Thyroid Cancer (one of the rarer forms of thyroid cancer), and remember feeling paralyzed with fear. Ummm….excuse me! I’m 26! I just got married. I’m not okay with this! After surgery to remove my thyroid and supposedly all the cancer, I felt cautiously optimistic. A year later, when the cancer started showing up again in my blood work, I felt like someone had scribbled on the path I thought my life was taking, and I didn’t know where I was going anymore. I had, and still have, loving family and friends, yet I felt alone and isolated. Cancer took away much of my self-assuredness, made me skittish about social interactions, and about life in general. It turned me into a worrier, taking away much of what made “Jenny” Jenny in the first place. The support of friends and family helped. Healthy eating and yoga made me feel like I was in at least a little control, but I was still missing something, and I felt ready to find it.
A few weeks ago, I took a grand leap into the unknown, and went on a kayaking trip with First Descents. I had heard about First Descents through the Mister, who was brought on to help edit their new documentary. First Descents gives young adult cancer survivors ages 18-39 (the most underserved population of cancer fighters and survivors, b.t.w) the opportunity to take on a legitimate outdoor challenge–kayaking, rock climbing or surfing, in order to face and conquer fears, and regain the self confidence and direction that was lost to cancer. I called and signed up for a kayaking camp, the adventure that both intrigued and frightened me the most.
After a debacle of a travel day, which consisted of 11 hours getting to know the Dallas Ft. Worth airport after a missed connecting flight, not making it off the stand-by list for the next flight, and waiting for a torrential downpour to settle down, I finally made it to the airport in Tennessee at 2 am, frazzled and discombobulated. It was there I met “Pleezah” and “Konvict”, my camp leaders (who drove 2 1/2 hours in the middle of the night to pick me up). We made a quick stop so that Pleezah could procure a red bull and some beef jerky to keep him awake for the drive into Bryson City.
We arrived at 5:30 am, and I stumbled into bed for a couple hours, and woke up to meet my new camp mates for the week. I was introduced to smiling faces with names like “Ativan”, “Brave Chicken”, and “Junior High”. There were 11 of us campers, 3 camp moms, and a chef. I had missed the receiving of the nicknames, so with others‘ input, I debated and wish-washed over what my nickname should be on the way out the door. Finally, in all my indecisiveness, I was granted a new name, “Flip-Flop”. Perfect. We ate breakfast and headed out to the lake to take on my most feared challenge, the dreaded wet exit, ie: flip yourself over in your kayak, and get yo-self outta there and swim to shore. I remember wondering, “What was I thinking?!?” Brown Claw, one of the kindest and most motivating 23 year olds I’ve met, saw my panic and said “You’ve got this, Flip-Flop!” And I did! I flipped that sucker over, got out into the freezing lake and lived to tell about it. I felt like a shivering, exhausted, unsure rock star.
In the next few days, we kayaked on progressively harder rivers, conquering more and more fear each day. River metaphors were abundant. Pick the path that looks like the most fun, and paddle toward it…Look where you want to go–if you’re looking at where you don’t want to go, that’s where you’ll inevitably end up… The only bad decision is indecision. Our instructors were teaching us to read the river, and we were all soaking it up as metaphors on how to proceed in life.
I don’t know exactly how it happened in the mere week I was there, but I began to feel joyful and alive. I felt connected to my new FD family, and like I was no longer alone. The floodgates opened, and I could laugh freely, reach out to others, and rip through the rapids with a fire I hadn’t seen from myself in a long while. “Flip-Flop” helped re-introduce me to an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long while…myself!
I cannot express enough my gratitude for all that First Descents did to help me launch into my life again! If you are a young adult cancer survivor, or just want to find out more about this life-changing organization, you can check out their site here.
Next post: Back to the food: A tasty lunch wrap that will give your sad cheese sandwich pangs of jealousy
In the meantime…check out a few of my favorite summertime eats!
•Southwest Quinoa Salad–one of my favorite summer side dishes!
•Every Little Thing’s Gonna Be Alright Tomato Soup, because tomatoes are almost here, and because every little thing is gonna be alright!