Tuesday, June 5, 2012

First Descents Trip - T Minus One Day

This entry is also being posted on the First Descents Blog.

Tomorrow morning, I leave for Bryson City, North Carolina, for a week of whitewater kayaking and bonding with a dozen other young adult cancer survivors.

I feel both over-prepared and completely underprepared. I've packed: 13 pairs of socks; three tubes of sunscreen; not only mosquito repellent, but AfterBite as well; Neosporin, just in case my head and a sharp rock meet in the river. I almost bought a watch with a compass, to guide me if I get lost in the mountains, but then I realized that knowing which way is north isn't the same as knowing which way to walk.

The First Descents team understands that we survivors tend to travel with more anxieties than the average person. Their objective for the program, which has become my personal goal for the trip, is to "forget" to put some of my anxieties back in my suitcase when I pack before heading home.

In the spirit of camaraderie, everyone who attends an FD camp is referred to by nickname instead of their real name. I either need to show up with a name, or I'll be given one. I've never had a nickname; I've always taken myself way too seriously for that. But showing up without one is yet another risk: I could wind up being called Fluffy.

How does one come up with a nickname for herself?

The only thing that comes to mind is Shark Bait. Why? “Finding Nemo” has been our family's theme movie for the past year. (**SPOILER ALERT** If you haven't seen the movie and plan to, skip down two paragraphs.) The first time we watched it after I returned from my hospital stay, I immediately related to Marlin, who's afraid of everything after Coral is eaten by a barracuda. It didn't help that two thirds of the way through the movie, Katelyn asked, "Where's Nemo's mommy?" My husband, Ryan, almost lost it...

The movie is about getting over fear. Given the toddler propensity to stick with the things she likes, that movie has played multiple times in our house over the past year. Each time, I think about how Marlin's and Nemo's quest to reunite is really a quest to move on with life after a bad event. The first night Nemo spends in the fish tank in the dentist's office, the other fish put him through an initiation ceremony. They rename him Shark Bait and challenge him to swim through the bubbles erupting from the plastic volcano. –Not so dissimilar from whitewater kayaking with First Descents.

Unfortunately, I don't really look like a Shark Bait. Hopefully, the others don't think I look like a Fluffy either. The concept of nicknames is just one way FD creates a world away from cancer for its participants. I have to admit though, so far, it's caused a little confusion for my Chemo Brain. The FD staff all has nicknames. I've interacted with a handful of them thus far. Sometimes, they use real names, and sometimes they refer to each other by nickname. Since my short-term name recall isn't what it used to be, I'm not sure if I've met 6 or 12 people, or to whom I've said what. Regardless of the actual number of staff members behind the interactions I've had, the strength of their warmth and enthusiasm feels equivalent to that of dozens of people.

In addition to giving us a heads up about the nicknames, FD has provided a packet of information to help us know what to expect. While reading (and rereading and rereading) the itinerary, I have been filled with excitement, and a little trepidation. The first day of kayaking will be spent on a lake, learning technique. We will have to intentionally flip our kayaks over in order to practice exiting while upside down in the water. Um. Hopefully I will be able to channel a little of the Shark Bait mentality at the exact, right moment.

Below a little more detail about the trip:

Day 1 - Get settled, first dinner, campfire (each night we'll gather around a campfire to share stories about the day's adventures)
Day 2 - Kayak skill-building on a lake
Day 3 - Practice skills and tackle some rapids!
Day 4 - Optional yoga, whitewater rafting, sightseeing
Day 5 - Kayaking
Day 6 - Class II - III whitewater (I would google this to better understand the classification system, but I'm trying to cut back on Internet searches that have the potential to produce fear)
Day 7 - Departure (long snooze on the plane)

No camping out in tents. Thank goodness. The website for our lodging uses the phrase, "Luxury Cabins." According to my reconnaissance, "luxury" in Cabin Speak does include mattresses and screens on the windows.

This is going to be fantastic, or in the words of Remix: "Rad."