Cancer was, and is, a physical and powerful emotional scar that will accompany me for the rest of my life. I don't know why it happened, but I am glad that it did, in so many ways.
I was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1996. My treatment was three years long and one of the most difficult things that I have ever had to endure. I think it will be one of the hardest things in my life that I will ever have to go through.
I remember everything because I was 12 when it happened. I remember having chemotherapy and losing my hair. I remember the needles, the doctors, the pain, the tears, the pills, the sacrifices and the heartache. It was a time in my life that helped define who I am. It made me see that I am not invincible or unloved. I am more mature for it and probably now look at life in a different way than most kids my age.
When I first heard about the kayaking trip through the Oncology Department at Children's Hospital, I thought it was a great idea. Kyle Gill, one of the cancer patients, had been working hard to arrange a fun experience involving some of the older cancer kids. He wanted us to be able to get together outside of the hospital, have a positive experience and deal with some of our cancer issues. After pestering the right people, he finally got his wish. Power to Be, a local outdoor adventure company was hired to take six kids from oncology out sea kayaking for 10 days.
In the past 30 years, the number of childhood cancer diagnoses in our province has doubled.
When I got accepted to go on the trip, I was thrilled, but a little worried because I knew I wouldn't really know anyone except Sharon, the hospital's social worker. Not that I am a wallflower or anything, but spending 10 days with strangers can be a bit an overwhelming and freaky thing to think about. Despite my reservations, I was so excited about trying sea kayaking for the first time that my concerns seemed to wane the closer our departure day approached. I wanted to do a lot of thinking about my whole life and where I was going. I also wanted to get through a few of my cancer issues. After all, this was the reason that we were going; cancer had brought the six of us together.
When I got to the ferry terminal I met the other kids who were going on the trip, Elsa, Kai, Meagan, Aaron and Brett. I was later told that Kyle couldn't come because he was sick again and had to back to the hospital. I was sad for Kyle, but knew that he'd want us to go out and have a blast, even if he couldn't make it.
The kids that did come were nice. Because we had share the experience of cancer, I felt instantly bonded to them. You know the kind of connection you feel when you're with old friends? That's what it was like.
So, all I had to worry about was whether I could make it through this entire trip. Cancer has a funny way of making you think you can't do some things, like play a whole soccer game or even paddle a kayak for hours at a time.
20 years ago, 70% of kids diagnosed with cancer died. Now 75% of them live.
But after the ferry shuddered away from the dock, I knew there was no turning back. I was going on this trip and I was going to overcome this challenge.
That night we stayed in Port Alberni at a small campsite. The girls set up our tent (far away from the boys!) and got ready for bed. We slept well that night, but got up at an ungodly hour! Tim and Andrew, our Power to Be tour guides roused us at 5:30 am to catch our small charter boat (good thing they're both cute!). When our three-hour trip on the rough sea ended, we found ourselves at a small and remote part of Vancouver Island called the Broken Islands.
Our kayaking began that day. It was pretty scary getting into a kayak for the first time, knowing that the only thing between you and about 80 trillion gallons of water was a thin piece of fibreglass. It was a lot harder than I thought, too. The padding was strenuous, especially if you didn't do it properly. Tim explained that one of the best ways to save energy while paddling was to 'push' the paddle on one side as you pulled it through the water on the other side. At first it felt weird, but after a while we got used to it.
Some of the kids wanted to be in the single seat kayak, but I chose one made for two people, so I could chat while I paddled. That day, I shared a kayak with Elsa. We talked about everything. School, music, boys. It was so great to talk to a girl my own age who had been through what I had. We made the hour and a half trek to the island we were camping at. It felt like it was in the middle of nowhere. To me, it was paradise.
B.C.'s Children's Hospital Foundation is raising $8 million over the next 5 years for a Paediatric Oncology Research endowment.
We spent the rest our trip kayaking around the Broken Islands. I tried to paddle with someone new every day, to learn more about them and their experiences. We also learned about the sea life all around us, Andrew taught me how to use a compass and I learned about what it took to plan a trip of this nature. Every night we had a campfire and took journals each day. Mostly it was for our thoughts, but I was amazed to see after just a few days of paddling how much more confident I was.
I laugh at all the silly things we did and all the stupid sayings that caught during our trip. I still laugh now when I think of all of us hanging out in the tent in the rain (oddly enough, the boys' and girls' tents moved closer and closer together throughout the trip) and we had a blast! We talked about all sorts of stuff and we all became amazing friends.
I want to thank all the people who made this trip possible for the six of us, especially Kyle, who sadly, passed away in the hospital while we were kayaking.
This trip has been one of the greatest things I have ever done. I made some friends for life. It has also given me more courage than I had before. I wear a ring now that I bought in Ucluelet on the trip. It's Celtic and to me, symbolises all of us coming together in a way that can never be broken.
From this trip, I will take with me courage, strength, wisdom, beauty, power and friendship. I will take with me the memory of a lifetime.
Rosie Gosling, 18, is a former cancer patient at B.C.'s Children's Hospital and a bright young poet and writer.
For more information about the endowment for the Paediatric Oncology Research please contact Cindi Coleman at 604-875-2444
Article taken with permission from "Speaking of Children", a magazine of the B.C. Children's Foundation (Fall/Winter 2001)