For young adults who have experienced cancer, coming together to build community in an outdoor setting can be truly life-changing. Base2Summit, a weeklong adventure program facilitated by the Cassie Hines Shoes Cancer Foundation (CHSCF), provides this kind of experience each summer on Bass Lake in northern Michigan.
At Base2Summit camp, a group of up to 12 young adult cancer survivors, supported by five staff members, spend a week together in the great outdoors. Each day, participants can enjoy a variety of organized activities, including sailing, biking, hiking, and kayaking. Back at the lake house, participants have plenty of time to socialize, share nourishing meals, connect over the campfire and simply relax.
Base2Summit’s origin story traces back to 2008, when teenager Cassie Hines was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer. While many people surrounded her with love and support, it was important for Cassie to “connect with others her own age with shared experiences,” according to Karen Hines, Cassie’s mother and CHSCF’s awareness director. Before Cassie passed away in 2012, she participated in outdoor programs for the young adult cancer community, including Camp Mak-A-Dream in Montana and First Descents in North Carolina.
Hines explains these experiences helped Cassie push outside her comfort zone. Although she was hesitant about exploring unfamiliar places and meeting new people, Cassie returned home with new perspectives and a close-knit community of peers who understood what she was going through.
In light of Cassie’s positive response to these programs, the Hines family was inspired to make a difference for others facing cancer at a young age. According to the CHSCF website, “Cassie wanted every young adult diagnosed with cancer to be able to experience it with the same peer support and sense of adventure she did.” Cassie’s family knew it would be their job to make her dream a reality.
The Hines family registered CHSCF as a 501(c)3 nonprofit after Cassie’s death in 2012. The organization started out providing treatment support gift bags to young adult cancer patients in Michigan hospitals. These gift bags include entertaining magazines, healthy recipes and information about adventure programs available to young adults in the cancer community. “We want to make sure that everyone with a young adult cancer diagnosis knows about these programs,” says Hines. Providing this information helps young adults take that first exploratory step in finding what’s available to them.
CHSCF then started focusing on barriers to access in adventure programs. The organization ultimately identified an opportunity to provide financial support directly to young adults. While cancer organizations typically offer adventure programs for free, the cost of flights to program locations can present a challenge. The CHSCF Travel Scholarship program was created to cover travel expenses and ensure that an even wider community of young adults could attend adventure camps.
In the summer of 2017, CHSCF started its own camp for young adults diagnosed with cancer, called Base2Summit. “We wanted to create a program without duplicating what was already out there,” Hines says. The camp started small, with only six participants, but it has grown organically since then, Hines adds.
The inspiration behind the name Base2Summit is that participants are encouraged to “find their base and reach their summit,” Hines says. “We want people to start where they’re at and have a secure base. Who am I, and how do I feel?” After a base is established, participants can look toward a summit, represented by overcoming a challenge or achieving new growth.
“Cancer survivorship programs are not necessarily one and done,” says Hines. She explains that CHSCF recognizes that individuals often experience very different phases of survivorship, and the need for peer support among the young adult cancer community doesn’t disappear after someone has completed a camp experience. For these reasons, the organization encourages young adults at all different stages of their cancer experience to attend Base2Summit camp, even if treatment was several years in the past, or if they have attended other adventure camps.
Whether attending Base2Summit or another adventure camp for young adults, Hines encourages participants to show up with an open mind about what they will experience and the connections they’ll make. Once a participant is fully present, they can truly benefit from what this camp can offer. “It might happen at different points for different people, but there is a day of magic for everyone,” she says.
About CHSCF: The mission of the Cassie Hines Shoes Cancer Foundation is to support young adults with cancer from the beginning of their battle to life beyond cancer. Engaging in support groups involving peer interaction, especially young adult cancer camps, can provide them with tools to help them manage the emotional side of their battle and feel like they are back in charge of their own life. For more information, visit CassieHinesShoesCancer.org.