Saturday, June 15, 2013

Out of the Darkest Nights Come the Brightest Mornings

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Camp Mak-a-Dream in Goldcreek, Montana where I spent the best week of my life. It was a young adult camp (YAC) for 18-40 year old cancer survivors/patients. It was seriously so incredible. I can't even begin to describe how fun and amazing it was. I didn't realize how much I needed some cancer friends.

When I first arrived at the Missoula Montana airport on Sunday June 2, I was scared to death and feeling extremely shy and awkward. I basically haven't really needed social skills for the past 3 1/2 years so I was unsure if I had any or not. However, that feeling quickly changed. As we got settled in for our first night at camp I quickly made friends. By the third day at camp I felt like I had known everybody for ages. It was amazing to me how quickly we all connected with one another. I guess there is just something about having cancer that connects people on a deeper level. The people there were the most inspiring, kindest and understanding people I've ever met. When you have to look your life in the face knowing it could be taken from you any minute something in you changes. The people there didn't judge you. You were just immediately accepted and loved and encouraged to do/be anything you wanted. I love every single person I met there and I miss them all a lot.

In the evenings we would have Fireside Chats which weren't really by the fire but inside, either with the people in our cabin or the whole group (there were 43 campers I think). It was really incredibly to hear people's stories. I loved that when we would talk about camp people would say things like,
       "This is the only time all year that I feel completely 100% myself."
       "I feel more at home here than I do at my own house."
       "You guys are family to me."
       "At home people are always telling me 'You can't', but here everybody tells me 'You CAN' and whether I actually can or not you guys are there supporting me and helping me do my best and pushing me to push myself."
       "I feel closer to the friends I make here than I do most of my friends back home, even ones I've known my whole life"
       "When I come here I'm not 'that kid with cancer' I'm just a normal kid. I can be me again."

I write these quotes because every single one of them is true for me too. I was afraid that I would get homesick, but I didn't. Not even for a second. I really did feel like I was home being there. It felt like I belonged. And for the first time in a long, long time, I was truly and completely happy. I can't remember the last time I felt so happy and whole.

There was so much to do there. In the mornings I would wake up before breakfast and go running. It was beautiful. Out in the middle of nowhere, there was like 3 roads to choose from, but it was just beautiful mountain country.

There was an Art Barn that had basically every single type of craft you could ever dream of doing. It was so amazing! I love doing crafts! The first two days were cold and rainy so I spent a lot of time in there. They had jewelry making, ceramics, tie dye, every kind of drawing medium, wood working, dream catcher making, yarn, fabric, things to name it, I bet it was an option. The first craft we all had to make was a Warm Fuzzy Bag. We all decorated a brown paper lunch sack and then hung it up on the bulletin board in the main lodge. Throughout the week people would write nice notes to you and drop them in your warm fuzzy bag. Reading the warm fuzzies you got from people was always super exciting :) Everyone is so nice and makes you feel so good about yourself! Camp was definitely a self-esteem boost. Especially after what I've been going through the past nine months.
I'm no artist, but I was proud of this oil pastel drawing I did

There was also a ropes course, a rock climbing wall, horses, zip line, mini golf, basketball, volleyball, hot tub, swimming pool, foos-ball and pool table, much to do! And since we were adults it was fairly unstructured so you got to choose what you wanted to do. They had a few guest speakers come and present workshops. One evening we had a drum circle that was super awesome! This awesome hippie drummer guy taught us a bunch of cool rhythms on these sweet African drums.

One morning we did a hike. There is a butte/peak right behind the camp that they hike. Me and my friend Ian made it up pretty quickly and there were a few people right behind us. But what was incredible was that every person that started the hike, made it to the top. One girl has to walk with the aid of a cane. She made it. One boy had a brain tumor and has had to re-learn how to walk and everything. He made it. One boy has really bad joint damage and said that a year ago he was confined to a wheelchair and his doctors told him he may never be able to walk normally again. But last year at camp inspired him and this year he made it to the top! It was the most inspiring thing to watch these incredible young people who have been through so much make it to the top of this peak. The last half of the hike is not easy. Its quite steep. I was so humbled watching them.

We made masquerade masks out of leather one night for the masquerade dance. That was way cool. We started with a flat plain piece of leather and cut out the design we wanted. Then we got the leather wet and molded it to shape and dried it. Then we could decorate it however we wanted. I airbrushed mine. On county fair night we had a fruit sculpting contest. My group won, of course! Woo woo Haley and Jimmy, best fruit sculpters around!

On Wednesday we drove into town (Missoula) and got lunch and walked around downtown. We got to ride the carousel which I was told is the fastest one in the US or something? Who knows, but it was super fun to act like a kid and be totally goofy. The funnest part was the weird hippie dancers in the middle of the park doing the weirdest dance moves. Me and two of my friends, Ian and Courtney, decided to join them. It was awesome! There was a whole crowd watching and it was totally weird, but really funny :)

The hippie dancer guy and his wife.

The dance was super fun. Everyone was goofy and crazy. The last night we stayed up all night long and took our sleeping bags out in the grass and watched the stars. It was a big ol' cuddle puddle of awesomeness! One of the funnest nights ever.

And I've even kept in contact with a lot of the people still! We've had two Google Hangouts (like Skype but with more people) and we text every day :) Thank heavens for technology! I really really really hope I get to go back next year. I miss my friends a ton.

The amazing thing about Camp Mak-a-Dream is that it is offered free of charge to anybody diagnosed with cancer. You just have to pay your transportation to get there. They couldn't do it without donations from people. A lot of the staff up there was volunteer, and there were so many supplies and fun things they provided us that have all been donated. WOW. THANK YOU to anybody who has ever donated to them. And to anybody who is looking for a charity to donate to, they would be the ones. Every person that goes there comes back a changed and happier person. I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to go there. I really needed it. A really cool testament to how amazing camp is was a statement from my friend. She looked through all the pictures posted on Facebook from camp and we were talking about it and she said, "Everyone just looked so happy in all the pictures." It's true. Everyone there is just so happy.
My amazing cabin leader Sarah. She was the funnest girl in the world. She was also from Salt Lake. She got her cool pants in Africa and I got mine in Thailand. Someone asked us "so are those cool pants like a Utah thing or something?" It was super funny

The saddest part about camp was when we had a Celebration of Life. Early one morning those who wanted to, gathered by the memorial wall and spent some time honoring those who couldn't make it to camp this year. It was heartbreaking to know that some of the people my friends knew hadn't lived to make it back to camp. It made having cancer so much more real to me. I couldn't stand to lose anybody I met this year. It's hard to believe that some people don't make it. Everyone at camp is so full of life. So bright and happy. But I guess that's why everyone there is so much more loving. We have all learned to appreciate life so much more. You learn that life is to be cherished and there isn't time to do anything but love people and live in the moment. Every person there has learned to live in the moment and be grateful for what they have. If you wanted you could light a floating candle to honor someone who had passed on.

I am so glad I got to go to this camp. It allowed me to find myself and remember who I am. It allowed to me be happier than I can remember being. It was truly a testament to me that after the hardest darkest times in your life will always come incredible times of joy. There will always be opposition, but the happy times remind you that its all worth it :)


  1. Oh man, Kalina, I am crying, You are so lovely and amazing and I can't wait to read your memoirs one day. <3

  2. I am blessed to have met you. May God continue to shine through you. Remember to live life to the fullest and have no regrets! Love you corazón.


  3. Awesome story about your camp week. I can only imagine how everyone bonded together and the lasting friendships that were made. Thanks for sharing so many of your experiences even your private ones that people can learn from and feel your strength.
    God bless you always for the wonderful, amazing woman you are.
    Kelly Bowyer :O)

  4. Kalina, I love you :)


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