I spent last weekend at “Colon Camp.” When I first attended it 14 years ago, we didn't formally call it that. I think it was referred to as the “Colondar Photo Shoot.” But things have changed over the years, and Colon Camp is a great name for it.

There’s woods, lake and gravel roads. There’s hammocks. There’s games. There’s karaoke. There’s lots of solo cups and even more platters of food. Some people stay up late and some get up early. Some do both. There’s bunk beds. There’s opportunities to exercise, opportunities I typically neglect to take. There’s suitcases sprawled out across the floor full of things you won’t find elsewhere… like ostomy bags and butt cream reserved not for babies but adults.

At this camp, there happens to be professional hair and makeup, and a photo studio setup. There's every potty-related game you can think of. Colon Camp specifically is a place that many young colorectal cancer survivors have been longing for, a space where you're not a unicorn or something of a spectacle because it happened to you so young. Oh, and Colon Camp has toilet paper. Like ungodly amounts of toilet paper.

The official reason I went to Colon Camp last weekend was to represent our team at Fight CRC and do some media training with the new models. Storytelling is my jam, and any chance I get to talk about it, especially when it comes to helping cancer survivors tell their stories, I can’t say no. Plus, it made sense. Fight CRC knows how near and dear The Colon Club is to me, and that for years following my photo shoot, I returned to meet the incoming models and write their stories.

Becoming part of The Colon Club forever changed me 14 years ago. I wouldn’t be who I am, doing what I do, if not for my first experience at camp.

So there’s a lot behind why I left my family back in Kansas City for a few days to spend it with mostly strangers who quickly became friends. But, also in true Colon Camp fashion, reasons I went to camp, or should I say needed to be at camp, didn't really hit me until I got home.

I’ve often said modeling for The Colon Club helped me find my advocacy voice. A few years after I attended Colon Camp, I met the team at Fight CRC, and from there, things escalated quickly. I found myself in a dream job, a career where I was telling stories of survivors all over the country, sometimes the world, and a part of making big things happen. I processed all of this as I wrote my book Blush, uncovering the profound trajectory that Colon Camp created for me.

I thought I understood the impact of Colon Camp on my life. But last weekend, I uncovered something new.

It’s no secret that the past year has been really tough, and for reasons that have nothing to do with cancer. I’ve actually said that our current situation involving foster care is the hardest thing I have ever been through... which is saying a lot. It was tough to leave Kansas City last weekend with everything going on, but as I returned a few days later, I realized how badly I needed to get away.

Because there's nothing else quite like it... Colon Camp is pure magic.

Almost instantly, as the tires on the rental car crunched over the windy gravel road and the tree-lined path began to form a canopy over me and my hurting heart, I felt at ease. I knew I was returning to a weekend full of sights, sounds, smells and sharing that could trigger all types of cancer-related trauma. But something different happens at Colon Camp for me. Things related to the cancer that once took me down become the very things that pull me up and encourage me.

The big hugs. The long conversations. The food. The selfies. The old friends. The new friends. The memories of friends. The photos. The scars. The honesty. This and more is what was waiting for me at Colon Camp last weekend. It was a welcomed and much-needed retreat.

I reminisced about the time I first found my voice, and I trained others on how to find and use theirs. But I also reconnected to something I once uncovered as a cancer survivor that I desperately need to get by these days: my strength.