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By Elise Frame
I still remember the night we tied the string bracelets around our wrists. It was the last night of camp after a week of whitewater kayaking on the wild Rogue River in Oregon. I swear there must’ve been a million stars in the sky that night. I’d never seen so many of them all at once.
After a solemn time of recognition for what we’d been through as cancer survivors and a time of remembrance for those who are no longer physically with us, our camp family paired off and tied the string bracelets around each other’s wrists. The strings represented the unity and sense of family that comes from conquering your fears together, and served as a promise to keep “out living it.”
While there’s no explicit rule that you have to keep your bracelet on for forever, it’s more or less understood that it’s good luck to wear it until it falls off. I kept mine on from that last night of camp until a few months later when I completed my last dose of chemo. My bracelet was tied loosely enough to take off without having to cut it. When I completed my last day of chemo, I slipped the bracelet off and tucked it away. There were too many emotions to process. I needed to forget them for a while.
A while turned into almost a year. From time to time, I’d look back fondly on the friendships and memories I made that week on the river, but I restrained myself from thinking about it too much. The painful reality was that these people I’d come to care for so deeply were suddenly out of my life just as quickly as they came into it. Sure, there was Facebook and email, but it wasn’t the same.
The other part that hurt even more was knowing that some of them were still in the midst of their struggle with this disease. While I rejoiced with my FD family over my completion of treatment, I also felt guilty when one of them received bad results from some scans shortly afterwards. It didn’t make sense. Why him? Why was I doing fine now but he wasn’t? These questions haunted me in every quiet moment.
It’s now been a little over a year since I went to camp, and a little less than a year since I took off that bracelet. Last night, that guy from my camp family died. My heart felt like it broke into as many pieces as there were stars in the sky our last night of camp. His FD name was Braveheart, a name he’d certainly earned on and off the river. He had the spirit of a champion, of someone who looked his fears in the eye and growled back. He wore his string until his very last day. Last night, I put my string back on for the first time.
It’s time for me to remember those emotions, to accept what has been, and to cherish the memories, no matter how bittersweet it may be. It’s not enough to say “I conquered my fears once.” I want to be able to say I am living brave-heartedly, conquering my fears every day until my last day. I am better for having known Braveheart, as well as all of my FD family members. Braveheart, you are remembered dearly and the inspiration you gave to all of us lives on.
Elise Frame (“Lil Sis”) is a 23 year-old student at the University of Texas studying Communications with a focus on Nonprofit Development. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 20, but recently finished chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free in October 2014. Elise participated in an FD1 kayaking trip last summer and discovered a previously unknown love for the great outdoors. She now enjoys stand up paddleboarding and kayaking on Town Lake in Austin, Texas, where she currently lives.