2016 Colon Camp

2016 colondar-family

By 2016 Colondar Model Phuong Gallagher

 

Eight years ago today, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Although the cancer itself was not a blessing, some of the things that it brought me absolutely are. It has given me the experience and with it the wisdom to help those that are lost somewhere in the journey through their own diagnosis. It has also taken me through my own journey where I have met precious friends along the way. Too often I only know these people through the screen of my computer, but earlier this month I got to step through and see the people on the other side.

As I sit here staring at my screen, wondering where to begin, I am remembering my time at “Colon Camp” (what this year’s models called the photo shoot for the 2016 Colondar) and my heart is full. I don’t know if I will be able to explain to you the magic that happens there. I sincerely doubt it. After all, how do you take 12 strangers from all over the United States and Canada who have never met, throw them in a cabin for 4 days and 4 nights, and come out with not only the basis for an amazing magazine, but 12 survivors who have come together, united in their voices of advocacy and so close to each other that their lives will never again be apart? I still don’t know how, but that is exactly what happened.
I can’t show you pictures from the actual photo shoot yet, but I can tell you that we had an amazing team. I had no idea what to expect and wasn’t sure how I would feel, but from the moment I sat in the chair for hair and make-up to the end of the shoot, I felt beautiful and confident as a model. I wasn’t shy about my scars. In fact, I was really proud of them because they showed every triumph I have had over cancer.

The one thing that was obvious was that we were all immediately comfortable with each other. Whenever I leave the house, I leave the security of having everything that I need to avoid embarrassing situations. At home there is no worry about not being able to make it to the bathroom in time. This camp was a safe place where there was an absence of the “what ifs” that usually accompanies the thoughts of colorectal cancer survivors when away from home. It was also a place for us to share the worst of the worst and celebrate the best of the best without judgement. Just a whole lot of listening, some tears, and endless support.
Over the next few days we talked, we laughed, and we cried. We broke down the facades that were put up for others and shared the most intimate details of our fears. We built each other back up through shared experiences, because nobody would ever have to feel alone again because of the things that scared us. We all gained brothers and sisters with whom we will walk the journey, no matter where it may lead.

In the final night before our departure, we celebrated those that had finished their race. It was painful to see those taken from us far too soon, but it was also a beautiful tribute to them. Among these angels was my dear Belle, without whom I would not have been a Colondar model. I was not able to make it to the celebration of her life earlier this year because of a cancelled flight. The staff had no idea, but this was my chance to say goodbye to her. I was sad, but I was also proud because I knew that I would continue the fight for each of our angels to bring awareness and funding to defeat this wretched disease.
Tears stung my eyes the next morning as I said my goodbyes to the staff, but I really lost it en route to the airport. It was a surreal drive and the finality of the trip hit me hard. I was not ready to leave this fantastic bunch, but at the same time I couldn’t wait to get home to my family. I had the first flight out, and part of me is thankful for that. I’m not sure if I could have handled saying goodbye to each person one at a time. As I walked away from these beautiful models I took one last look back at them, wishing that I could take them all home with me. I hurried to my plane and collapsed into my seat for the flight home.
I swear that I didn’t join a crazy cult somewhere. I just found a place where I felt like I belonged. Really for the first time in my life, I was one of the “cool kids.”

I felt like an emotional wreck the entire flight home, having left everyone behind in Tennessee but not yet in the arms of my dear family, so it was a lonely place to be. Once I was home, I gratefully fell into my darling husband’s arms and kissed my sweet daughter. I sure missed all the wonderful people I had just left behind, but I was incredibly happy to be home. I did miss my husband and daughter so!

I still don’t think that I explained this life-altering event properly, but again I don’t know that I ever will have the words for it. Some things are simply beyond words, so I leave you with this. Today I celebrate my 8-year cancerversary. I am so pleased to share it with all of you my friends, and doubly pleased to do so with my family, new and old. My dear Eddie and Taylor, I am ever grateful for having you by my side through my journey.