By Lori Kimbel
Rob Chimelak, board member of Athletes4Cancer and active volunteer at the Hood River Kiteboarding 4 Cancer event, was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer in October of 2012, at the age of 29. It was then and there that he decided he was going to take on cancer and keep ‘kicking butt’, and not give in to the terrible disease.
“While going through chemotherapy I realized how many people had touched my life,” said Chimelak.
Before cancer became part of his everyday life, Chimelak was athletic. He participated in running, lifting, and obstacle course events.
“I wanted to get back into it, but my body just wouldn’t let me.” He said. “My doctors wanted me to accept it, but I refused to accept it.”
Chimelak applied for and was accepted into Camp Koru #19 in Maui, Hawaii.
“Every patient is looking for a sense of normalcy and that is what they find at Camp Koru,” said Chimelak.
Camp Koru is an adventure retreat program that empowers young cancer fighters and survivors. It is a camp run by survivors for survivors. The camp is for those who were diagnosed between the age of 18 and 39, and they accepts those as old as 44. Camp Koru offers a place for healing, where young fighters and survivors can experience achievements and life renewal through active outdoor activities in the ocean or in the mountains. The camp last from three to six days and is free to cancer survivors. The camp helps survivors find direction as well as life renewal.
“It is difficult to try and find your own identity as a young adult transitioning from high school to college, or college to the real world, but throw in trying to deal with cancer…It puts your life into a spin. At Camp Koru you get to deal with nature and focus on the spirit of one team,” said Chimelak.
After being diagnosed with cancer Chimelak felt as if he needed to be the glue that held everyone together. The experience was traumatic, not only for himself, but those around him including his mom, dad and sister. “I had to be the rock,” he said.
The surgeries he had to endure required him to be awake. The cancer was eating him from the inside out, both mentally and physically. The toll it was taking on his body as well as his mind eventually festered into cancer-induced PTSD.
“I was in denial about it for a long period of time,” said Chimelak, “but eventually got treatment for the PTSD. Through it all I learned not to focus on the medical aspect of the disease, but rather an overall awareness of helping others. I had to quit thinking about where am I going to be and when is this going to happen again. So now I do a lot of one on one cancer patient mentoring and I give survivors and their family’s emotional support.”
Chimelak offers advice to those who have had loved ones diagnosed with cancer. “Regardless of how far you feel like you are being pushed away, shower them with love as much as possible. Create little moments to make both of you feel special. Don’t dwell on why me, keep looking forward.”
By Lori Kimbel