My Athletes4Cancer surfing trip, Camp Koru, that the Cassie Hines Shoes Cancer Foundation sponsored me to attend this past October 2014 in Maui was nothing short of magical. After being diagnosed with a local recurrence of breast cancer in August 2013 at the age of 34—nearly nine years after my original diagnosis and bilateral mastectomy at—and undergoing a grueling treatment of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and medication throughout 2013 and 2014, my body and soul felt absolutely exhausted and depleted. I was so focused on getting through each cycle of chemo and radiation and in constant warrior mode that when the ending finally came, it felt hard to celebrate and shut off the fighter button in my head. I knew I needed to take a break from my regular life and dedicate time to the healing process, and so when I heard of Athletes4Cancer’s surfing program Camp Koru, I was determined to take part in that experience. The Cassie Hines Shoes Cancer Foundation made this a reality by sponsoring my plane ticket to Maui.
When I arrived in Maui, I knew immediately that there was something magical about the island. Perhaps it was because I watched Lost throughout my chemo fog and craved a tropic adventure of my own, but the sheer beauty of Maui—from glorious pink and orange sunrises and sunsets, lush forests, and sparkling volcanic rocks to an ocean that was literally every shade of turquoise and wind that would flip and flap us around as quickly as it would disappear—there is something that is simply other worldly about this place.
I will never forget the first time everything finally connected and I stood up on the surfboard. The momentum from the wave literally lifted me up and gave me the feeling that I was flying on top of the world. The ocean beneath me seemed so still and quiet and nothing seemed to matter other than riding the wave all the way in, my eyes focused on the palm trees in the horizon. It was one of the most peaceful and empowering experiences I ever felt and restored the trust in my body to carry me upward and in the elements of nature to anchor me in uncertain times. After that first connection, I went back again and again to surf more, always thinking of Cassie and her sheer tenacity in life to live in the moment.
I will always remember the unbelievable amount of laughter that I shared among my campmates and the camp staff, now individuals that I consider dear friends, and the sheer amount of silliness we had together. I think I had largely forgotten how to have fun and laugh after ten years of living in cancerland, especially with this past year of aggressive treatment. I felt like myself in a way that I hadn’t in years, shedding so much of the anxiety and fear I had long held on to, and literally staying up late each night in fits of giggles with my roommates over all of the ridiculous moments we had shared that day.
I will never forget the amazing kindness and support that the Camp Koru staff—most of who are survivors themselves or have been personally touched by cancer—showed us. They constantly cheered us on during each and every wave we attempted to conquer and made sure that all of our surf rides were captured on camera. They showed empathy and compassion during campfire each night. Our camp chef Ahi made delicious and nutritious meals that fueled us through every day. The surfing instructors at Surf Camp Maui were patient and encouraging throughout our instruction in stand up paddling and surfing each day, always showing us how the waves are deeper metaphors for the ups and downs of life.
I consider all of these wonderful and kind souls as part of my “ohana,” or family in Hawaiian. I know that no matter what may lay ahead in life, there is an extended family cheering me on. By sharing this slice of paradise, with the ocean and wind moving us in sync together, we are forever connected and bonded. We ride the ups and downs together, eyes always on the horizon, flying on top of the world.
There is something infinitely healing in being connected with nature—the reassurance that the sun will rise after darkness and a new wave will make its way to the shore and then back out to sea. Thank you so much for helping to make this experience happen. I am forever grateful.
Love, Trisha (surf camp name Laka, Hawaiian goddess of song, dance, and forest)