It wasn’t until the second night on the trail that the travel guitar made an appearance. A milder climate and surprise bonfire were conducive to acoustic music and off-trail companionship. A few of us passed around the instrument, playing mostly broken versions of the songs we knew – some classics which made for boisterous sing-alongs, others obscure folk tunes that led to a serene silence as our new group of friends listened intently. Scott, a 40-year-old survivor of stage-four mantel-cell lymphoma, didn’t play himself but it became clear he was a music aficionado from our talks along the trail that afternoon.
Joseph, 23, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 12, took another turn, mentioning he wanted to share one of his favorites with us. The fingerpicking began beneath the star-lit Peruvian sky. A pristine rendition of the song “First Day of My Life,” written by Conor Oberst of the band Bright Eyes – well-known in some circles, but certainly not an obvious choice in this setting. Scott and I glanced at each other in amazement since Joseph was unaware of the conversation I’d had with Scott earlier that day in which he shared the story of being released from the clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, following a near month-long stay for a stem-cell transplant a few years prior.
Scott had hopped in his car, fired up a mix CD he’d made for this moment, and set sail toward home. The simple yet powerful lyrics, “This is the first day of my life,” began blaring as he gripped the wheel and embraced his new beginning.
Above + Beyond Cancer journeys are about a few different things – adversity and how it can lead to growth, getting back to basics and enjoying simple living, and bonding with others who, while they may have different cancer experience, understand one another, sometimes without even knowing it.