“Instead, I Walked Forward” – DaVita’s Camp Courage Fosters Hope
Courage evokes images of heroic acts, self-sacrifice, and glorious victories. But courage is more than that. It is having strength when an easier route is to give up. It is moving forward, despite deep fear and anxiety, because you know the road ahead is what is right.
The first time that I felt courageous – truly courageous – was during my cancer treatment. I was in front of the doors of the infusion center. As I walked toward the doors, I felt the panic attack knocking on my chest. My heart raced. My vision was blurred and everything was bouncing left and right, though my head was steady. I did not want to go through those doors. I did not want to be given medicine that would induce sickness for months on end. I did not want my body destroyed. I did not want to lose my hair because I did not want others to see me as a sickly, pathetic thing. I wanted to turn around and cry and take the chances with the tumor.
Instead, I walked forward.
Though I knew treatment was what I needed, as I sat down, I began a time of haziness. I was a prisoner to my treatment. I wasn’t quite Paula. That is, until I arrived at the Atlanta airport that summer. Literally smack dab in the middle of treatment, I decided to take a trip. It wasn’t just any trip – it was an invitation from DaVita to participate in a trip for cancer patients and survivors. It was called Camp Courage. I happily agreed to partake in a week-long adventure, mostly for the kayaking. Little did I know, that week would give me more than just a workout. My camp crew would help me be me, again.
I immediately felt kinship with my DaVita Camp Courage Teammates. When other people have to deal with similar life threatening events, you simply “get” each other. I knew I was with my people when I sat next to another participant in the back of the van on the way to camp. Typically, I would become teary-eyed and emotional when telling my diagnosis. As I told my story to my new friend, I felt different. I felt quite average. I was no longer the odd ball in a crowd of people. My new friend had gone through a similar situation. She was better now. She was healthy. You would not have known that she was a survivor unless she told you. I was fortunate to get to know all of them even better through our camp side fire chats, our grub sessions, and of course, during our kayak trips.
The kayaking was unbelievably fun and I’ve since taken kayaking up on my own because of the experience. However, what stuck with me most that week was a reconnection with myself. I had felt so trapped by my treatment. By seeing fellow warriors, many of whom were well beyond treatment, I knew that normalcy was possible, again. They showed me that I could feel alive and vibrant, again. Even though I was in a harsh part of my life, I had the courage again to thrive and to be me, again.
This Maya Angelou quote sums up the impact that Camp Courage had on me – “My mission in life is not to merely survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”