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FROM DOUBT TO SPLENDOR AT CAMP MAK-A-DREAM
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
By Evan Natelson
On Wednesday, August 11th, I embarked on my second journey to Camp Mak-A-Dream in Montana, the host of the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation’s (CBTF) Heads Up Conference (HUC).
This experience turned out to be five days of wonder and spiritual renewal. The camp is a mixture of relaxation, fun, learning, and socialization, in which the attendees – all brain tumor survivors – spend a week scaling a climbing wall, practicing yoga, whizzing through the awesome Montana skies on a zipline, traversing the ropes course, understanding the landscape and functions of the brain, discovering how to exercise (despite physical limitations), enjoying the company of kindred spirits, and so much more.
Located in the town of Gold Creek, Camp Mak-A-Dream’s landscape is pristine and absolutely divine. The vastness of the Big Skies easily lends itself to the notion that humans are only limited by what we think and perceive – and that is the biggest lesson that I learned on my trip. As a brain tumor survivor myself, I know from experience that survivors can feel extremely isolated, broken, and disconnected from the world at large. However, a beautiful thing about camp was that those feelings faded within hours of everyone meeting each other, and by twilight of that first day feelings of wholeness and togetherness abounded.
Every day, I chose to hike a hill behind the camp – affectionately known as the Butte. The Butte is a moderate-sized hill, about 2,000 feet, with very little vegetation adorning its rugged exterior. Its beauty exists at its summit, where one can see a 360° view of the spectacular countryside. When atop the Butte, one can distinguish that the camp is surrounded by great mountains, resides amidst rolling hills of various shades of green, and is masterfully painted with the colors of countless wildflowers. But – like life – the magnificence of the Butte can only be absorbed after the challenging hike up.
On my first hike, only three people joined me, but by the final day of camp, most of the campers had experienced the amazing spectacle at the summit. On three occasions, I had the opportunity to assist friends whose physical and mental disabilities would have made the hike otherwise impossible. It was such an inspiring and moving feeling when, despite their doubts and fears, they trudged up that hill to see the glory at the top. It made me feel that climbing the Butte, despite many obstacles, to finally witness the breathtaking view was a metaphor for the lives of these survivors. I noticed that many of the obstacles (including some faced on the Butte) were just illogical mental barriers of “I can’t do it because I’m broken” or “The world says I’m weak so I’ll just be weak.” Once these barriers were crossed (sometimes with just a little help), the brilliance and grandeur of life became accessible.