This past week was amazing! I had the privilege of participating in the inaugural First Descents Surf camp (First Wave) in Santa Barbara last week. 2 years ago, I participated in my first White Water Kayaking Camp in Glacier National Park, Montana. I was hesitant to participate in another First Descents camp because I was afraid of tarnishing the memories of my first FD experience. I was completely wrong. New memories and adventures were created with a new group of friends in a new exciting adventure.
Before my surgery in 2005, I was just starting to get into a new hobby, surfing, in a new city with new friends. I’d wake up early to go surfing before work, and found myself so relaxed the whole day. A few months after I established my routine, I was diagnosed with a golf-ball sized brain tumor between the brain stem and cerebellum. The new hobby that I was just learning to love was suddenly taken away! Within a month I had:
- an eight hour brain surgery,
- an eight day visit to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit with 5 days in a medically induced coma,
- a six week stay in the rehab unit at the hospital I used to work,
- brain radiation treatments five days a week for eight weeks, and
- physical, occupational, and speech therapy with my former coworkers.
Since then, my life has taken a completely new direction from the plan I had since graduating from Physical Therapy school eight years ago. I’m very grateful for the new direction my life is taking me, but I sometimes wonder how things might have turned out if didn’t need to take this new direction. I have surprised many people (myself included) with some of the things I have been able to accomplish. Publishing articles/books, going on national book tours, public speaking at universities/colleges/hospitals, and starting a nonprofit organization were never in my wildest imagination. The brain tumor hit me pretty hard, but it didn’t knock me out! (It’s my turn to counter punch through MKF!) I hate to admit it, but the brain tumor was the spark that ignited a new fire in me. I’ve also learned to appreciate all the little things in life!
I still miss the old activities I use to do. The tumor took away so much. Surfing is one of the few things that connects me to the “old” me. I have met so many amazing people on this journey, but the people who inspire me the most are the survivors I have met on all my travels! Every person I’ve met that has attended a First Descent camp (campers, staff, and volunteers) has a unique energy about them. It’s an attitude that is hard to describe, but easy to recognize. I have met so many amazing survivors in these camps! I have heard so many incredible stories of triumph that it is humbling being there to witness a fellow survivor’s own personal triumphs. To see it on their faces is an incredible feeling. I unfortunately could not paddle out to the lineup myself, but the experience of being out there has given me something to shoot for. Just knowing the journeys my fellow campers had to endure and watching them catch their first waves was so inspiring to me. Watching someone do something they didn’t think they could do is incredible. Seeing the smiles on their faces coming out of the water with a look of confidence reminded me of my own experiences catching my first wave. The feeling of riding a wave is nothing short of incredible. The speed, the freedom, the fact that you are being propelled by pure energy that no human created is pretty cool when you think about it. It made me smirk seeing the “awe yeah, I did that” look on everyone’s face as they confidently walked back to our spot on the beach. I’m still improving physically, but it’s taking much longer than I expected. I look forward to the day that to will be able to paddle out to the lineup and catch my first wave on my own. Give me some time to figure out how to do it… I can’t wait to join my new friends on a wave. ;P