I Survived Colon Cancer… And Camping

Know what might be more polarizing than politics? Camping.

You all are funny – I posted on my Facebook page and asked for tips as I headed toward the wild wild woods this weekend and got a variety of responses. All made me laugh out loud. They also showed me the mixed feelings people have about sleeping in nature.

Some think camping is one step away from Heaven’s pearly gates. Others say the complete opposite. To be honest, I’ve been in that second camp for quite awhile.

That is until this weekend.

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My Camping Dilemma

As a kid, I was not an outdoorsy girl, but after colon resection surgeries and cancer treatment, I’ve preferred to stay inside. When you’re told to avoid sun because you burn easier while on chemo, to skip lake water because your immune system is weakened and to watch what you eat because your GI system doesn’t handle stress, unpredictability and new foods well, it doesn’t exactly make you “camping friendly.”

5 Survivor-to-Survivor Camping Tips

As you can probably gather from some of my posts about birds and arrows, it’s been a year of transformation. I’ve said “yes” to things where my prior answer was “no.” So this summer, I took my mom and step-dad up on their offer to go camping. I didn’t want my daughter to miss out on a life experience.

Plus, truth be told, I didn’t want to feel like I was missing out, too.

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I’ve developed coping strategies for handling many of my chronic side effects over the years. I travel a lot for work and have adapted them for when I’m on the go. This weekend I took things a step further and adapted my tips to fit the outdoors.

Here’s how I got myself to say “yes” to camping:

1. Set Bathroom Boundaries.

I must be near a flushing toilet. I don’t compromise on that. It doesn’t have to be fancy or even private (I let that go a few years ago) – however I need indoor plumbing nearby. I don’t feel bad about that. The camping lot had a clubhouse with a toilet I could use. The first thing I did when we arrived was find it. That’s my boundary, and it’s helped me explore and do a lot more outside.

2. Take Imodium.

I hate taking medicine. I think a lot of us do. But I’ve had to get over that when it comes to Imodium. I know I’m not the only survivor who struggles with complicated diarrhea, years after surgery and radiation it’s still an issue. But 5 or 6 pills of Imodium will help slow down my GI track and allow me to eat more than white bread and rice. I’ve accepted this and because of that, I can travel for work and go camping. I would not be doing these things without these pills.

3. Pack More than the Bare Necessities.

Some people find minimal packing thrilling. While I do love the simplicity of camping, I do not go simple when packing. I made myself pack 2-3 extra pairs of clothes in case I did have GI issues and needed to change. I also packed all of the lotions and cremes I use at home just in case. Having them in my bag lowered my anxiety, and I could enjoy myself more knowing I had a backup plan if something did go wrong.

4. Eat Comfort Foods.

There are certain foods that calm both my heart and body. They’re true “comfort foods.” Some of them make no sense. For example, I can hardly eat any meat but I love hotdogs so much, (if I take Imodium) they generally don’t bother me. The same goes with a moderation of M&Ms, Cheetos and smores. This weekend I was surrounded by these foods and because I was generally relaxed, I could eat them in moderation. This didn’t only make my stomach happy, but it made my heart happy and added to the camping experience.

5. Share the Load.

Combine my driven personality with surviving cancer… sometimes I struggle with sharing the load. But this weekend, there were many hands to lift things, set up the campsite and do the work. Heavy lifting and a lot of moving around stimulates my GI system and often creates painful discomfort. So I forced myself to not push it and find jobs that made more sense for me like helping cook, washing dishes and poking the fire. I still felt like I contributed but I didn’t challenge myself or overdo it while outdoors. I lasted the entire time and didn’t need to go home early.

My Camping Takeaway

My daughter Mae summed up the trip very well last night on the ride home,

“I hoped I would have fun, but I didn’t expect to have a blast!”

This weekend we watched the stillness of a lake’s rippling waves. We ate gushy caramel apple pies cooked in a pie iron, and lots of smores. We tromped through crunchy leaves in the woods and learned what a bullfrog sounds like. We watched a wasp lay eggs and sang along to my husband’s acoustic guitar. We swam in a lake, we gazed at stars. My friend and I climbed a tree. I spent some alone time and journaled in a tent. Maybe best of all – I had no cell service and kept my phone in airport mode for over 12 hours straight.

It was simple. It was relaxing. It was camping. (Or as my mom put it – “glamping.” In full disclosure, I did sleep in the camper.)

It took me many years to get here but I’m proud that I’ve arrived. I survived a weekend of camping and to my surprise, I loved it. It’s amazing what my body can do when it’s relaxed.

Now, camping is on that list. I would totally do it again.

Enjoy Some Pics!

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My Arrow Tattoo

Eight years ago, I swore I would never get another tattoo.

Don’t get me wrong – it was a very thoughtful gift from my husband. He wanted me to celebrate my “cancer free” anniversary in a big way.  So on a snowy, January night, I handed Whispering Danny, one of Kansas City’s beloved tattoo artists with a passion for cancer survivors, a drawing of the blue star for colorectal cancer. He sketched it out, and what felt like a painful eternity later, I had my first tattoo.

It was empowering and strengthening – a forever reminder of my cancer journey.

But it was also one of the most painful experiences of my life, and I swore I’d never do it again.

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Things Change

I’ve often heard pregnant moms explain how their love for their children overshadows the pain that accompanied their births into the world.

This was not the case with my blue star tattoo.

After awhile, I hardly noticed it anymore. It became like a mole or freckle – blending in as part of me unless someone spotted it and started asking questions. But when the questions came, I’d always mention the pain that accompanied the buzzing of the needle gun, promising to never do it again.

But one day, things changed.

I changed.

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Fighting Back

Over the past several years, I’ve gone through a process that’s changed and transformed me. I often feel like a butterfly looking back at phases from when I went from a fuzzy caterpillar to winged creature. I am healed physically, emotionally and spiritually. I live free of the lies, pains and disappointments that used to bind me. It’s not that I don’t have stressful moments or bad days, but they don’t wreck me like they used to. By God’s grace, I can stand up again if I’m struck down no matter what may come my way.

Simply put, I’ve been set free.

Many years ago when the healing process began, Psalm 11 came into my life and offered explanation for the brokenness. It explained invisible enemies are out there shooting arrows at the upright at heart.

The pain began to make sense.

Once I began to notice the invisible enemy arrows shot into my life, the process of their removal began. Some of them came unwarranted; others were consequences of my own actions. But in time, with a lot of grace, I recognized I was not as powerless as I once felt.

I began to deeply believe.

Words like “forgiveness,” “grace,” and “faith” made a lot more sense. Eventually, I saw a new mission in front of me. I’d been given my own set of invisible arrows to fight back with – not only for me, but for those God’s put in my path.

Arrows like love and joy. Peace and patience. Kindness and stillness. Prayer and petition.

Arrows designed to set captives free.

So that’s why I got my arrow tattoo. It’s for freedom.

Freedom for you. And freedom for me.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

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Big thanks to my friends at Sparrow Tattoo Company in Mansfield, TX; I’ll forever fight in honor and in memory of my fellow colorectal cancer fighters. 

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