At a small mountain ranch in Sweetwater, Colo., University of Colorado Cancer Center patients are finding solace, peace and a community of others facing the same challenges every day. Twice this summer, Epic Experience has held camps specifically designed for CU Cancer Center patients including Hazel Senz, a lung cancer survivor.
“Organizations like Epic Experience allow cancer fighters and survivors to escape the stress of your “cancer life” and experience something that is so rich in support, love and challenges,” Senz says. “It truly makes you believe that there is life after you hear the three words ‘you have cancer.’”
Those three words came as a shock to Senz in February when she found herself at the doctor’s office for a urinary tract infection (UTI). “I have had UTI’s on and off all my life, but have always self-treated and never have gone to a urologist,” she says.
This time it was different. She felt the need to see an urologist. “Call it what you like, but maybe it was divine intervention.”
The urologist ordered Senz to have a urogram, an CT of the kidneys and bladder, because there was blood in her urine. What the urologist found was much more concerning—a large mass at the base of her left lung. Senz’ head started spinning. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
On March 5, 2014 Senz was diagnosed with stage IV adenocarcinoma of the lung.
“For someone who has never smoked, does not drink and runs marathons, lung cancer was the last thing I ever imagined I would have,” she explains. “It was a total incidental finding. If I had not gone to that urologist I still wouldn’t know.”
Now, months later, Senz is on what she calls her “miracle medicine”, crizotinib, to treat her rare form of lung cancer. The drug has shrunk her tumor and allowed her to maintain a “pretty good quality of life.”
Cancer was the last thing on Senz’ mind when she traveled to 7W Ranch with Epic Experience this summer. Instead, she was thinking about the adventures she was going to have.
White-water kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, horseback riding, and hiking were a few of the adventures she had to look forward to through Epic Experience, a locally based non-profit organization. Started by a physician’s assistant at Huntsman Cancer Institute and a mother of a cancer survivor, Epic Experience provides free, weeklong camps for adult cancer survivors and caregivers.
Senz says her week “was a little piece of heaven in the Colorado mountains” especially after her life was turned upside down the previous four months. “We were just miles from the Colorado River where we kayaked, there was a lake on the property where we learned how to stand-up paddleboard and fly fish, there were stables for horseback riding and a nice lawn to play volleyball and corn hole.”
Senz feels very blessed to be a participant in Epic Experience.
“There were so many fun things that happened at camp, but my favorite event happened the last day we were on the river,” she says. “My ‘duckie buddy’ and I decided to take on the more challenging route in our kayaks. At one point the kayak flipped and I was dumped into the river. It was cold, but I hardly noticed because my adrenaline was flowing, and I was having such a good time.”
The week at Epic Experience not only enabled Senz to relax and have fun, she also created memories that will last a lifetime.