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Breast Cancer Awareness: Bravehearts camps help survivors laugh, bond

Friday, October 18, 2013
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Female survivors of all kinds of cancers make new friends at Bravehearts. Co-founder Karen Haag is the second woman from the right in this photo from last weekend’s camp in Lake Luzerne. (Karen Haag)
Female survivors of all kinds of cancers make new friends at Bravehearts. Co-founder Karen Haag is the second woman from the right in this photo from last weekend’s camp in Lake Luzerne. (Karen Haag)

Cancer isn’t fun. But when cancer survivors go to a Bravehearts camp, the theme is “girls just want to have fun,” just like the Cyndi Lauper song.

Female campers dance, party, kayak and fly through the air on a zipline.

And if they feel like it, they share their cancer stories with the women they meet.

“Challenge and adventure help empower women, but fun, friendship and laughter are important,” said Karen Haag, a breast cancer survivor who is a founder of Bravehearts and head women’s basketball coach at The College of Saint Rose. Last year, because of her work with Bravehearts, she received a National Jefferson Award and a Make a Difference Award from the Susan B. Komen Foundation.

“We very much did not want this to be clinical or medical or about treatments. We really wanted to go off in a different direction,” said Haag.

Last weekend, more than 60 women gathered at the Double H Hole in the Woods Ranch in Lake Luzerne for Braveheart’s 10th annual Adirondack Weekend.

Any woman who has experienced cancer is invited to attend four different overnight camps. In addition to the Adirondack Weekend, there’s Choose Your Adventure, held each May at Double H, where women do a high ropes course and go horseback riding and whitewater rafting. In June, it’s Sun & Sailing, a weekend of kayaking, sailing lessons and beach combing on New York’s Shelter Island. And It’s All About Me, a spa pampering session, is held in August in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

Physical aspect

Haag said three of the camps focus on physical activities because she believes those activities can really help women who are coping with cancer.

“The zip line, the ropes course, you look at that and you think ‘I can’t do that,’ ” said Haag. “You think ‘I’ve been sedentary for all this time’ or ‘I’ve had surgery.’ And then suddenly you are up there and you’ve done it. That’s an incredibly empowering thing when you can achieve something physically that you didn’t think you were able to do.”

Cancer survivors are stronger than they think they are, she said.

“My other hope is that it motivates folks to be healthy and get into some kind of exercise regimen.”

Campers aren’t required to be athletic, however.

“You can sit on your keester all weekend and make crafts if you want to,” Haag said.

A camp of their own

The idea for Bravehearts was hatched in 1999 when Haag and two other cancer survivors, Joyce Chulock and Lori Walsh, met at a support group and went together to Camp Good Days and Special Times.

Haag was living in Pennsylvania at the time, so when the three women launched their first Bravehearts camp in 2000, it was held at a YMCA camp in White Haven, Pa.

“We had 43 women at that first event. We got amazing feedback, and it fueled us to continue and to continue to grow,” said Haag. “The next year, we added the Shelter Island weekend. I’d grown up out there, and in the summers my entire life, that

 
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