Friday, December 7, 2012

The Lovers: My December Cancer Peeps

The Cancer Calendar has had a great four-year run—Girls of Cancer, Dudes of Cancer, Passed Away Resulting from Cancer, and finally my personal Cancer People stories. This will be the final addition to the Calendar unless I suddenly have a change of heart (I'm only referring to the Cancer Calendar stories and not to the whole blog, which will continue on forever!). Enjoy.

“Daryl” and “Scooter”

I exited the small plane in Grand Junction, CO, after a connecting flight from Denver. I was supposed to meet my First Descents rock-climbing group to depart to our lodge in Moab, Utah, but I was starving and thought I had some free time first. I grabbed a sandwich and coffee at Subway.

One of the camp directors, Scooter, called and left a voicemail. Sweet onion chicken teriyaki took priority and he would have to wait. Then my mom called and left a voicemail. Then my mom texted. Then Scooter left another message.

I engulfed the sandwich and called my mom. Scooter had called her (she was listed as an emergency contact) saying the whole group was waiting for me and worried I had missed the flight. I refilled my coffee and rushed to baggage claim.

There they all were, standing around and waiting, fortunately not upset. Scooter was dressed in a giant blond afro wig and Daryl, the other camp director, dressed in his permanent smile. Since the trip participants were, unknowingly to me, all on the same flight, Daryl had asked if anyone saw me on the plane. “He’s 28 years old, likely white, and a cancer survivor.” Nobody raised his or her hand. Hooooolz later said she saw an oblivious guy near the front and thought it was me. Sounds about right.

The trip lasted five days and included “Camp Mom,” “Camp Dad,” one nurse, one First Descents headquarter program coordinator, one chef (and another who later joined for fun), climbing instructors, and two camp directors. Scooter was volunteering and taking a week off work where he was a hydraulic engineer. I think Daryl was a First Descents employee and one of its founders, and all the others were volunteers, but the jovial spirit for those paid and unpaid was the same.

Daryl and Scooter were helpful to a fault. They accommodated everyone’s skill and exhaustion level. When the group continued climbing two hours after we were supposed to have stopped, Daryl accepted that our chef (also his wife) might not be thrilled. They drove us everywhere, sometimes taking multiple trips if some had to leave early.

During our long hike, Scooter—who was built to haul—asked to carry my backpack for me. I declined and pushed forward through the sandy and rocky terrain. Thirty minutes later he asked again. I declined. Fifteen minutes later I thought of my then-new mantra— Justify Nothing, meaning never feel the need to justify cancer and its effects. For the sake of my hip I asked for help. “Scooter, actually would you mind carrying my bag? And my climbing harness and helmet?”

“No problem, Hippy.” He threw it on his shoulders which were already loaded with his and two other peoples’ bags and trudged along.

Daryl was also carved from a life of climbing, kayaking and surfing. I watched him belay Camp Dad, a big dude himself, on a vertical route with almost no holds, keeping the rope tight enough to support him with almost no give.

Their goofiness was even more evident. Scooter’s girlfriend recently gave birth to their son, and Scooter claimed his name was Danger. We are all certain Danger’s mother had a different name in mind, but equally certain Scooter is secretively teaching his son to respond to that one.

Daryl is a modern-day hippie with an unending supply of silly comments. Daryl once told Tink a dull joke that was only funny because of his smile and delivery, and then said, “Bad humor is all I’m good for…that, and love. Love always comes first.”

Daryl and Scooter have seen many survivors enter their camps, and several of them have passed away. Despite that, they’re the first to provide support when one of the campers mentions that her health status has declined; the first to congratulate her when things are stable or improving; the first to offer their love.

At First Descents I attained self-discovery, gained a hobby, made lifelong friends and a new nickname. But my greatest takeaway is to try and offer love, which is now who I am, and I feel whole because of it.

Some time after my trip a friend told me, after several drinks, that one of the saddest things in life is when you can't be with the person you want. I nodded.

We just have to keep offering bad humor and love, I thought.
First Descents group leaders Daryl and Scooter


Jenny said...

I LOVE Daryl!! I am a sarcoma survivor and a first descentee :) Outliving it!!

Benjamin Rubenstein said...

Awesome! What is your nickname? Did you climb or kayak?