Cancer Support, Rock Climbing

My First Descents Rock Climbing Adventure

So, cancer camp doesn’t sound especially fun, especially when I tell you that our meals were mostly gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free. Oh, and there was no booze. And I was sore, terrified, and completely out of my comfort zone at times.
The Overlook Ranch in Estes Park, Colorado set a majestic backdrop for a week-long adventure this summer. Life slowed down for me that week as I temporarily set aside the daily obligations of a working, single mother. I hit my reset button and got enough rest each night, exercised each day, ate delicious, healthy meals, and emotionally engaged with some amazing individuals.


The First Descents Program gave me the courage to discover what I am capable of accomplishing, humility in the presence of so many strong individuals who recounted their years of struggle, and vulnerability to connect with people in much more meaningful ways beyond our common ailments. We had camp names like Paco, Princess Bear, Shaman, Cricket, Dexter, Dawg Pound, and Pow Pow. Buttercup, Peanut, Big Papi, Bumble Bee, CK, and HD. Scooter (Rooster), Queenie, Ice Cream Sherpa, El Rio Gordo, Huckleberry, and Pyro. Pistil, Spearmint, Rocky, Hans, Meetball, Indy, Again, Patches, and Hollywood. And I was Bumble. We left loved ones at home, pushed the pause button on treatment, and abandoned our everyday lives for a week to experience something incredible.
I challenged myself doing something completely new that I had never tried before and turned out to be pretty good at it. I sat around the campfire with my group as we vocalized gratitude for the day and the positive actions of each other. Little did I know, that first day of climbing as we all stood together watching “The Great American Eclipse of 2017,” yelling at the clouds to move out of the way, we’d share an incredible bond and get matching tattoos by the week’s end.
Programs like this are so important to young people with cancer. I can’t tell you how many times I heard from others how nice it was to be surrounded by people their age who ‘get it.’ Having cancer at cancer camp means you’re normal! And it means you’re not alone. Being a member of a supportive community that stays in touch even after the program ends is priceless. We were shown that eating healthily can make us feel better. We were physically challenged which made us feel stronger, even in bodies which sometimes don’t feel like our own.
Here’s my highlight reel:
  • Meeting Buttercup – walking arm in arm though Rocky Mountain National Park’s Bear Lake; her in a purple tutu and crown and me in a moose hat, sharing all things inappropriate and cracking each other up
  • Sharing something deeply emotional with someone, then having to ask their real name because we only know each other’s camp names
  • Literally waking up to a mountainside view
  • Giggling, snuggle parties, and late night talks like we were all 12 again
  • Ending each day with a campfire
  • Giving shout outs to each other
  • Huckleberry and Pistil for being vulnerable and giving us grace while we learned to see the world a little differently
  • Watching Cricket read my writing, which made her laugh and then cry
  • Getting matching mountain tattoos with my new friends on my birthday
  • Learning new songs and singing them all together
  • The food! Fish tacos grilled kebabs, thai, avocado pudding – All hail CK!
  • Feeling healthy! Low/no sugar, high fiber, low gluten, low/no dairy, no soy, no booze, getting to bed at a decent hour and getting up early
  • Overcoming fear and climbing, belaying my ass off, repelling, and multi-pitch climbing
  • Doing yoga with Queenie mountainside
  • Dining all together at the really long picnic table
  • Watching my new friends overcome fear and push through personal obstacles
  • Celebrating my birthday with people I just met, who made it so lovely! I got a card with a unicorn, a purple tutu and birthday hat to wear for the day, a signed placemat at the picnic table. I got silly stringed and I screamed as I walked up to the ranch then was surprised by everyone waiting there with decorations. Everyone sang happy birthday to me as apple crisp with a candle was delivered to the table. I even got to pick my favorite yoga sequences that morning!
  • Being so incredibly moved by Huckleberry’s quiet strength, their soulful vocals punctuating the day. The song they sang humbly about being born and everyone around you is smiling and you’re crying, and to live so when you die, you’re smiling and everyone around you is crying. This was in the dark of night, standing around a wheel barrow filled with water which carried our paper cups-turned-lanterns with little flames burning inside, representing those who could not be there with us. To feel that in the moment and have the courage to put it out there so freely, it’s as if they had no choice; their beautiful, soothing voice needed to find our ears
  • Feeling like I was living in a gallery every day being treated to these stunning views
And here’s what I’ve learned:
  • You’ll be photographed like a celebrity if you’re wearing a moose hat in the mountains
  • Really amazing friendships are formed when you allow yourself to be vulnerable
  • Celebrating your birthday with strangers is underrated
  • You can accomplish more than you think you can when people believe in you
  • Campfire shout outs should be applied liberally in life
  • Make time for things and places and people that make you happy
  • You CAN climb mountains while wearing a tutu and birthday hat if that’s your thing

If you’re feeling generous and want to contribute to the program, you can make a donation at my personal First Descents fundraising page. Professional images courtesy Rebecca Elliott, Sunnybrook Photo.




Mastectomy Tattoo

My Four-Year Cancerversary

This October, I celebrated my 4-year cancerversary. October 1st was the day I found out I had stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma. As Nancy Clancy would say in the chapter books my daughter and I read together, that’s a fancy way of saying cancer. That same month in 2013, my wonderful surgical oncologist rid my body of cancer with a double mastectomy. So, I celebrate. Because I am here, I am alive, and I am doing things.

I marked the occasion by completing my decorative mastectomy tattoo, done by the amazingly talented Miranda Brouwer of Wealthy Street Tattoo! It takes up half my body and it is GORGEOUS. It is being featured along with an article I wrote in Inked Magazine! My friend and favorite photographer, Tyler Steimle of Ghost Code Studios spent some time capturing these intimate details in tasteful and flattering portraiture.

And then I put some clothes on and we took some fun and sassy photos in my trademark pinup-style look and favorite red heels!

Thank you, Miranda and Tyler! I am so grateful to have you creative, caring beings on my path to healing.


Dating After Cancer

How To Be Single

Did you ever see the movie How to Be Single? There’s a scene where one character dumps a bowl of peanuts on the bar top and sweeps away groups of them as she lists all of the reasons they’re undateable. Not peanuts — all peanuts are undateable, just to clarify. The peanuts are guys, in this scenario, if you didn’t catch on to that metaphor. Mine went something like this:

My friend Tom: What are you doing online? I mean, you’re a pretty girl and there are two hundred thousand people in this city!

Me: Yeah, but how many eligible people? Here.

[I dump a bottle of tamoxifen tablets on the table]

Me: Okay, there are two hundred thousand people in this city. Sounds like a lot, right?

Tom: Why are you pouring your medication all over the table?

[I separate half of the tablets]

Me: But, half of them are women, and even though I sometimes swing that way, our city is a conservative landfill in regards to alternative dating. Plus, most of the women I’d be into are already friends of mine.

Tom: Tell me about how you sometimes swing —

Me: Let it go.

Tom: I think the dog is eating one of your pills.

Me: So, one hundred thousand people. And then you have to have some age limits. Let’s say over 30, because I don’t have time to deal with millennials.

[I start separating the pills again]

Me: Under 42.

Tom: Why under 42?

Me: Because otherwise they message you on your dating profile and tell you about their sweet ride and their AAA membership and all you have to do is be a good wifey and cook for them… not interested. So anyway, now it’s twenty five thousand.

Tom: Right, we’re talking about twenty five thousand guys.

[I start separating the pills again]

Me: But half of them are married, ten percent are gay.

Tom: That’s still quite a bit —

Me: [throwing peanuts] Thirty percent of them don’t have a clue what to do with a kid. Fifteen percent just want to play guitar or Super Mario Brothers or whatever.

Tom: Shaneé, that game is from the 90s.

Me: Seven percent work at my favorite local music venue and I am not giving up going to my favorite place because it didn’t work out.

[There’s only one tablet left on the table]

Tom: There’s your boyfriend.

Me: I wish.

[I smash the pill with the bottom of my pill bottle]

Me: Twenty percent are going to be scared as shit when I tell them I had cancer.

[I start separating the little parts of the pill]

Me: Five percent are gonna think it’s weird I only have one nipple.

Tom: I think it’s weird you have a bunch of pills all over the place. That’s gonna trip up your game.

Me: And most of them are on Tinder.

Tom: These are the women?

[referring to the pile of pills on the counter]

Me: Hmm.

Tom: Thanks.

[He gathers up the pills into his hand and pops them into his mouth]

Me: Tom! Those are estrogen blockers!

[Posted on Medium 9.11.17]