Retreat Yourself Adventure 2015 from the ground (and air and water)

October 2, 2015

By Denis Raymond

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Retreat Yourself Adventure 2015 began with a group of inconspicuous-looking young adults gathering in the lobby of a small motel off of the trans-Canada highway in Deer Lake, NL. Observers and participants alike might’ve felt this gathering was akin to a family reunion. Twenty faces were lit with excitement and anticipation for they would soon be conquering rivers and mountains together (both literally and figuratively). For many of us, this would be a new beginning.

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We braved the rapids of the frigid Exploits River on the first day. The cold could not damper our spirits as we emerged with racing hearts and smiling faces. Joyfully, we swam in the waters and sang songs alongside the rhythm of our paddles. This absolutely thrilling adventure ended with us reflecting on what might keep us frozen in fear in our lives, and what we may need to let go of in order to vanquish those fears.

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Our next challenge was the lookout trail in Woody Point. After this 5km trail, we pondered the meaning of change and the necessity of transition in life. The 300m climb up the lookout trail also served as our warm-up for the following day: Gros Morne Mountain.

For many of us young cancer survivors and supporters of survivors, Gros Morne Mountain felt very much like our cancer journeys. The two hours until we reached the base of the mountain felt like the grind of everyday life, combined with that peaceful kind of ignorance of what the future might hold. Suddenly, the sight of the mountain comes in view — cancer comes into our lives. Though the climb up the mountain was a real struggle, it treated us with truly beautiful and unique views (when we were not looking down to take our next step).

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At the peak of this mountain, we enjoyed each other’s company, and took in the most breathtaking landscape. Our journey was not over, however; the longest stretch of this journey was to come on the way down, back to “ground zero.” Most of us found ourselves exhausted by the third hour of the descent, with our blistered feet carrying us ever so slowly down the low-grade slope that seemed to stretch on forever. It reminded me of life post-cancer, but with one key difference. Though this mountain trail eventually led us back at the beginning of our journey, our trails have forever changed due to cancer entering our lives. Our paths might level off after a while, but they might also lead up over more mountains, across more rivers, leaving us once more tired and exhausted.

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The next day brought us up yet another mountain, but this time we allowed ourselves to let go of our fears by zip-lining one of the highest zip-lines in North America. We allowed ourselves to look ahead and allowed ourselves to dream on this day. The evening brought a lot of laughter, tears, and memories to be forever shared between us.

It’s easy for young adult cancer patients and supporters to simply stay completely in the moment, to turn off their hearts and live in their heads, always looking down for their next foothold. It’s often difficult for any of us to stop and appreciate the unique perspectives on life that our experiences have given us. We feel as though we cannot stop and glance around for fear of recurrence or loss.

It’s easy to forget that our paths have now converged with the paths of others who love and support us. But we must remember that our cancer experience has also given us a new family, one that supports us as we brave these new difficult realities, and “new normals.” They are there to hoist us back into the boats of our lives if we fall into the cold and dark waters. They are there as we climb mountains, and they are there when we vanquish them, no matter how far we’ve fallen behind. They allow us to soar over waterfalls and fly over forests. I can’t thank my new family enough for the support and the truly genuine love I’ve received from them and from my new brothers and sisters.

YACC – thank you.

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