Epic Experience hosts free, week-long adventure camps in Colorado to adults who have faced a cancer diagnosis. Whether you’re in treatment or have been in remission for decades, Epic Experience brings individuals together to explore nature and create strong, healing bonds. Nancy is leading Epic Experience into its 10th year and is working hard to bring their unique programs to survivors (a.k.a. thrivers) around the country.
How did you get the idea to start Epic Experience?
In 2007, my oldest son was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and was in intensive care. He overcame it but later that year, he got testicular cancer. After he recovered from surgeries to remove the cancer, he fell into a dark depression. A cancer diagnosis has physical and emotional impacts far beyond when you’re “done”. As a 23 year old, support groups weren’t helpful since he was always the youngest one there. He found a camp that he wanted to go on with other cancer survivors and when he came back, he was himself again; he was able to connect with survivors in a real way. I had previously worked in development and volunteering but wanted to do more. My friends in Colorado offered me their ranch to use, and everything started falling into place for an outdoor adventure program.
Can you walk me through what an Epic Experience trip entails?
Our trips are for anyone over 18 who was diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Some were diagnosed at 5, some at 25, some at 45. The camps are about 10 survivors per trip and all our volunteers are previous campers. In the winter we do cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and campfires at night. During the summer we raft, hike, kayak, and horseback ride. There’s so many magical moments at camp. There’s a lot of laughing, talking, and bonding. At one of our camps where everyone was under 45, four people had metastatic cancer diagnoses. I heard everyone hysterically laughing one night and I walked in to see what it was about. As it turns out, they were writing their obituaries. In any other setting that is so twisted, but everyone feels so comfortable at camp. To witness that was such a highlight. It’s a freedom for people to talk about the things they’ve been holding inside with people who understand.
How has the pandemic affected your trips?
When Covid hit, we had to pivot fast. We started doing virtual dance, yoga, and exercise classes and did a 3-day virtual camp. It was great in a way because we got to include people in the hospital who normally wouldn’t be able to go to camp. We also started a podcast about mental health and cancer that goes into topics like fertility and cancer, or finding the humor in cancer. On our YouTube, we started a series called “How To Cancer” with 3-5 minute videos about what to wear to chemo, how to advocate for yourself, the basics of what to do after a diagnosis. We reached 13,000 people in 2021 through our virtual programs. In 2022 we are expanding into virtual reality. We have 7 videos that will be distributed in cancer centers for people to explore nature through VR. They all include elements of mindfulness and are guided by calming voice-overs.
What is your favorite part of your job?
It’s definitely being with the survivors, who we actually call “thrivers”. Selfishly, it’s a reminder for me to live each day with appreciation for what’s in front of me. If we change one person’s life, I’m ok with that. I hope it’s more, but one is all I need. We want people to know that they aren’t alone, because they aren’t. There’s so many people who have the same thoughts and feelings when they face a diagnosis. It’s been amazing. Hard work, for sure, but amazing.