ELEVEN NEW SISTERS AND BROTHERS (AND MANY MORE COUSINS)
Earlier this month I felt like the luckiest guy in the world. The Colondar 2.0 colorectal cancer (CRC) patient retreat, interview and photoshoot was quite simply one of the absolutely most amazing experiences I have ever had. It was truly a life-changing event. Inspiring, invigorating, emotional, empowering… I was so blessed to be able to participate in this… You are going to read about and see 11 other AMAZING SURVIVORS when the 2016 Colondar 2.0 is published next March! It was one of those experiences that you love so much you want to tell everyone you know what happened, what you experienced, what made it so incredibly special. But you can’t find words in the English language to convey the levels of everything you saw, did, felt, and experienced. You just can’t. But I don’t shrink away from challenges – so I wanted to at least try to convey what made it so special.
To begin with it was not simply a photoshoot for an annual magazine – so get that out of your head immediately. Yes, the Colondar 2.0 photoshoot brought us physically together – but that was actually only one component to what we affectionately called “Colon Camp”. 12 people, all stricken with CRC early in our lives before the age that screening normally begins, met each other for the first time in the Nashville airport. Speaking for myself – I am not naturally an extroverted/social person, so I was nervous and not sure what to expect. It felt like I was about to enter “MTV’s Real World Nashville – Special Cancer Edition!” where they were going to throw 12 strangers, with a wide range of backgrounds & personalities (with the one common thread of CRC) into a house – and we would see what happened.
What unfolded was truly magical
The week was filled to the brim with activities, including plenty of time to get to know each other 1-on-1. I don’t make new close friends quickly and I certainly have never done it before within the span of 4 days. With this group of people, it felt like I made 11 new close friends in <24 hours. The time spent talking individually, in groups and during planned activities was inspiring, invigorating, emotional, empowering, and even ironically some of the most laugh-out-loud funniest moments I have ever experienced. Since we all shared the common thread of young CRC, we could let our emotional guard down, allowing us to bond as soon as we met. We all had heard (unexpectedly since we were so young) “you have colorectal cancer”. And let’s face it – because of the body parts involved, there is unfortunately a lot of societal stigma inflicted on many patients (especially young ones!) due to the consequences of the many surgeries endured (young age colostomies etc.) – stigmas that disappeared within the safe emotional confines of Colon Camp.
Most importantly, I simply have never met such a concentrated group of truly amazing people in my entire life. I don’t say that lightly. You have seen the above picture of us tucked away in a previous post – but I wanted to repost it in order for the photo to have the focused attention it deserved. Take a close look at those faces. They are the faces of early onset CRC. The people in this photo have endured incredible amounts of surgical, radiological and/or chemotherapy treatments (in most cases much more than I have) and they are all SURVIVORS. I have quite simply never met so many people in one place who have not only endured incredible levels of hardship but have THRIVED – filled with hope, humor, heart, zest for life and strength beyond anything I can convey in words. Once again take a close look at that photo and know there are the most incredible stories I have ever heard, behind each and every vibrant smiling face. I wish I could tell you each and every one of their stories – you would be breathless upon hearing them – you’ll have a chance to read all about them when the 2016 Colondar 2.0 is published next March!
During the 4 days, the incredible staff (all volunteers including multiple former models) gave us so much and then so much more. It was a place to not only be inspired but also to escape the various issues/treatments etc. we all faced “in the real world” for 4-days of pampering and unconditional support – from people that all knew & understood first-hand what we had gone (are going) through. It truly felt like we had won a trip from the Make a Wish Foundation. Every single person on the staff was incredible – cooks, counselors, world-famous professional photographers/makeup artists/designers. And they all donated their time to help. It wasn’t just the out-of-town staff & photomagazine professionals – the locals who helped were just as amazing! The masseuse? She was a local woman who took un-paid time off from her job to voluntarily give us a 1 hour piece of heaven. The cook (and her daughter & husband)? They were our “local family” much more than simply creating meals – at least to me she was my Mom for those 4 days – the entire family took part in our wrap party. The groomer? She and her husband came out to the wrap party – joining in with the karaoke singing & dancing (and even teaching me how to country dance Tennessee style!).
The photoshoot itself was an amazing experience! Emotionally, it brought tears to my eyes to see everyone be pampered and treated like Rock Stars after we all enduring so much in our various lives simply to live. I have seen the photo proofs – and I promise you that when the 2016 Colondar 2.0 is published next March – you will be AMAZED by its quality! You can tell there was a world-class team behind the production! Yes, I will have plenty to distribute – all proceeds to support CRC patients & advocacy!
The Colondar 2.0 magazine is annual and we are now directly connected to >100 previous models who have welcomed us & reached out to us to support – it is one giant family who unconditionally support each other nationwide. I walked into the Nashville airport nervous and unsure what to expect. When we left the Nashville airport 4 short days later (picture below – I like to think it is a bit blurry due to the tears flowing) – it was with very long and tear-filled hugs goodbye of no longer strangers but now close friends being physically forced back apart. Tears to be honest that lasted my entire flight home – thank goodness for in-flight wifi keeping us connected via texting, Facebook etc!
My family now includes 11 new Sisters and Brothers who I know will be constantly in contact and will give unlimited support to each other for the rest of our lives. On top of that we also have >100 cousins from previous years supporting us as well. If that isn’t simply amazing, I don’t know what is.
The Colon Club is one of the largest CRC patient advocacy groups in the country. It is they who sponsor the annual Colondar 2.0 retreat and much more. Just a few of the things they do: 1.) Spread awareness that yes, CRC happens to young people under 50 (we are actually the fastest growing group of new CRC diagnoses!) 2.) Provide resources promoting screening/early diagnosis 3.) Provide the patient online forum “Colon Talk” where patients (including myself!) can gather to give each other essential help, support and advice. 4.) Publish the annual Colondar 2.0.
Why is the annual Colondar 2.0 magazine important? I believe it is vitally important: 1.) By showing the faces of young CRC – which is essential because in most areas, a young CRC patient has probably never seen or met another fellow young CRC patient so he/she often feels alone… At least until seeing another face from their own generation in the Colondar 2.0! 2.) By giving inspiring stories to read of fellow patients not only surviving but THRIVING for emotional support and HOPE 3.) By providing many articles of important guidance for young CRC patients and those at risk – guidance they may have had trouble finding elsewhere.
The Colon Club has incredibly changed my life for the better and I know it has & will for others as well!