The Last Six Months

First, a few photos taken with my iPhone while on today’s “run”.

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Here’s to recognizing how significantly fortunate I truly am, how fun a life I’m leading, and to all of those I’m so happy and blessed to share it with. Here is a recap of the last six months of my life.

November brought my first medical school interview at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Though I didn’t get accepted, it was an excellent experience and I got to spend some time with a couple great friends I made in 2013 while in Kenya. I also made it to Durango for an elk hunting trip with Dad and Netti Jo (Annette). Then, my high school newspaper staff friend Alex Bond and I made our way to Moab for some awesome climbing adventures. Dad joined for the first night in the camper which was a treat and afterward, Alex and I got into almost as many things as I can remember. Needless to say, we had a blast and what I do remember includes a couple hairy situations, a lot of fun, and tons of beauty. Thanksgiving in Durango was also major fun at the Community Center in Vallecito, CO, near where Dad lives.

December was excellent but the highlight was without a doubt Molly coming home from her European adventures. A close second is plenty of family time in Bossier, Baton Rouge, and Dallas. Near the end there I gave a few private photography lessons for the first time and had a great time doing so. I hope my student had as much fun as I did.

January’s first week came with another exciting adventure in that I shot the cover for SB Magazine, Shreveport Bossier’s regional magazine. We went to five businesses in Shreveport to highlight the people who help them run. Here’s the online version of the article: http://sbmag.net/february-issue/. Two days later I was flying again to Kenya for a five week stay at CURE pulling double duty on the job I’d had in 2013. I had a great time and it further encouraged my desire to become a surgeon. In fact, the reason I didn’t stay longer was because I had two med school interviews in February – but that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Molly came over for almost four weeks! To Kenya! How huge is that!? It’s major and we all know it. We grew considerably while there and I can’t put into words how fortunate I feel for her to have been there to see what that part of my life looked like. She was extremely good with the kids and helped me TONS (yes, I needed the capitals). I unfortunately missed a Monroe family reunion while there, but know that they know I wanted to be there. I also interviewed and got the job for a commercial photography internship in NYC, which I ended up turning down. I would’ve loved to, but it didn’t pay anything.

In February Molly and I were in Kenya until the 17th, on which I flew directly to Yakima, WA (east of the Cascades, and usually sunny) for my interview on the 21st with Pacific Northwest University, an osteopathic medical school. I loved it. I wish Molly had been able to join me to know how Yakima was, but was very happy with how the interview turned out and impressed with the school. Spoiler, I got in, but that didn’t happen for another week or two. From there I flew to Spartanburg, SC for an interview with Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Carolina’s campus. The interview went great there, too, and the people were nice enough, but it didn’t feel like the place for me. At least not as much as PNWU did. I had more time in Yakima and could explore much more than I could in the Greenville/Spartanburg area, but I do feel like I got a good enough reading on things to know how I really felt about it. I got accepted and declined the offer. It was $2,000 (or thereabouts) to hold my seat. I also scored a $1300 Delta Airlines voucher, which I’d be happy to let Molly help me use up for volunteering to get off my flight home after all of this travel. It was worth it. So I flew to Mom and Pat’s house in Bossier for Cory’s birthday celebration.

The first part of March took me once or twice to Baton Rouge to visit Molly and I got some quality time with family, my buddy Alex, and good friend Deep, who I serendipitously met while working at LSUS-HSC a few years ago. Alex has a new climbing gym (and conventional, sort of, gym in Bossier through Pro27 called Climbossier. Here are some links for that: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Climbossier/1532674673681124 and http://www.pro-27.com. Then, the biggest adventure for sure, was house and dog-sitting in Boulder, CO with Molly. We found these people on craigslist while we were in Kenya and, well, one thing led to another, as they do, and so there we stayed, for three and a half weeks! How awesome is that!? We flew into Durango to see Dad and Annette for a few days beforehand and found him in some serious back pain. That was really tough for all parties, especially for Dad, and we postponed the Boulder thing a few days until we had to go up there or give up the opportunity. Again, Molly and I grew closer and more confident in our relationship, finally feeling for at least a while like we were in the same place. We also got to climb a lot, I finally got back into running some, and my best bud David Legan came out to skydive, wingsuit, and hang out. Great thoughts will always be had about our time there.

And that brings us to April. Molly and I celebrated her birthday early since we wouldn’t be together for it, filming our own cooking show, sorta kinda, to make her birthday cake. I gave her a Maasai necklace she didn’t know I brought home from Kenya that I was convinced she’d seen at least twice between then and now yet somehow, she hadn’t. She flew to her namesake’s birth in Dallas, her second cousin if I’m not mistaken, and I flew to Shreveport to then drive to New Orleans for my interview at LSU-HSC. Fortunately and finally I was able to stay with my childhood friend Rhett Parker, who remains one of my best friends, for one night as I was interviewed and visited the school. It was superb. Prodigious even. Seriously, the school has got it going on. Not only is it less than half the cost of PNWU (a big and somehow minor detail in my hopeful decision making process), but it has probably ten times the number of simulated robotic patients able to do all sorts of incredible things like bleed and respond to medication in real-time. I was highly impressed with all I saw there and would be very happy to attend the school. I should know shortly after May 1st what their decision is as far as my acceptance is concerned. All appropriate digits are crossed. We’ll see. I then flew to Charlotte to see my friends Josh and Harmonee Klein (parents Ken and Deb not to be excluded) for a few nights and go to a thing at the National Whitewater Center called Tuck Fest, which was an outdoors event like none I’ve ever been to before. It was awesome. And I got to meet their five week old son Saint Everest Klein – a privilege I’m happy to have had. He’ll undoubtedly grow into a respectable man. At Tuck Fest, I got 6th in the twilight 5k, being in 2nd for a bit and deciding that, well, that hurt a little more than I thought it would. I felt that way shortly after the gun went off. We also participated in the bouldering competition and had a great time just hanging out, finishing the event by watching some deep water soloing (you had to qualify to get in, which I didn’t) and camping out a couple nights. I took a taxi to the airport at 0430 Sunday morning with an Indian American man who admitted he was afraid of both camping and the dark, heading for Durango before Dad’s surgery on Monday. That went as expected, as well as either he or the doctor could have hoped, and I’m here now watching and helping him recover. Last Wednesday I went around Durango passing out resumes and calling around for some work, which I successfully found after an interview yesterday. I’ll be working part time at Surya Health and Wellbeing Center on Main St. in town. They have a number of practitioners and I’ll be filling in a role titled Patient Care Coordinator. I’m happy to have the job. I may also be staying a few nights in Dove Creek, CO, near the Utah border to do some ranch/farm work with an ex-pro cyclist who now lives and owns a business around there. Who knows. I’ve successfully found, after five attempts, a running shoe worth owning made by Salomon, the Sense 4 Ultra Soft Ground as they call it. So I took them across the street yesterday when UPS brought them and bested my “neighborhood” summit-to-house trip by eight minutes. The tread on those things rocked. Today, two hours across the street again brought beautiful cloudy sights and 40+ elk wandering about, scared by my smell. I came up on three of them not 20 yards away after being upwind of them, scaring them immediately once they heard me. I also saw two mallards both days (like they usually travel) and a mule deer through the quickly blossoming aspens.

I have big plans for May, June and July and am hopeful for a lot more time with Molly, some highly needed money, an acceptance to LSU, and anything else “epic”.

More to come…

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Life is Blessed and Beautiful

It’s been four weeks. Four weeks of one incredible event after another I never thought I’d manage to experience and which have brought tears to my eyes and cheek-aching smiles to my face. Every morning I wake in a surprisingly comfortable queen-size bed and find myself to, surprisingly, still be in a fully-furnished two-story yellow house that, though it has some leaks, sits in what I know to be one of the most beautiful parts of the world. I have hot water, plenty of room both inside my home and out – enough to have a garden – to have miles and miles of trails, dirt roads, “paved” roads, mountains, and valleys. I can walk to work in about 13 seconds, which if I were doing anything other than what I’m doing now, might not be that great a thing. But as it turns out, my “job” just might be the greatest gift of all. Not only do I get to see some of the strongest and most brave children on a daily basis, but I get to learn about their lives, share that story, photograph them, and watch them go through a life-changing surgery that for many, will allow them to walk or use a part of their body they were before unable to use. This is CURE Hospital in Kijabe, Kenya, and this is the best decision I don’t even feel like I’ve made.

I don’t feel like I made this choice because, simply, it was made for me. All I did was apply for the gig and found myself lucky enough to be chosen. Don’t get me wrong, I tried real hard to get here, and more than once, but ultimately it wasn’t me that said, “yes”, it was the people at CURE.

So what in the world has happened since arriving. Day one was a blur, a rush of actions and photos, movements from ward to waiting bay to operating room. Honestly, it felt like two or three days rolled into one and before I knew it I’d just witnessed two surgeries. “What even happened?”, I said to myself. Luckily, I do remember the third as I’d be hard pressed now to forget a moment of it. The feeling of watching Stephen Ngugi’s legs transform from a state where his knees were naturally so knocked they touched one another, to straight, blew me away. I felt like my life had ended and I’d been reborn. Fascination, excitement, curiosity, and astonishment consumed me. As the surgeons chiseled away as Stephen’s bones as you would hammer in a nail, I knew that coming here had already changed my life in a way I never could have imagined and that staying here would bring immense growth into my life. I came wanted to feel like I was an actor helping to achieve a goal in a world of problems and now could not shake an overwhelmingly powerful sense of resolve, nor did I want to. Thankfully, this feeling hasn’t faded, and I hope it never does no matter if I move on from CURE after this year or not. Every surgery since Stephen’s has been new, whether it’s the same surgery or not, and has left me so mesmerized and so overcome with joy that “fortunate” doesn’t come close to describing how I feel to be here.

Did I mention I’ve seen three species of monkey (black and white colobus, baboon with the red butts, and some type of bearded monkey), at least 20 species of birds, many of which are so brightly colored their feathers look Highlight-ed, had a (very) short conversation in Swahili, have met many great friends both American and African, run miles and miles overlooking the Great Rift Valley, and can’t wait for everything in store?

And oh yeah, yesterday I scrubbed in on an ankle fusion surgery! I thought taking photos of the surgeries was cool, but the view you get with your hands on the tools and the patient is utterly mind-blowing. I felt bone inside and out, cartilage, muscle, and tendons. I think an astronaut could’ve hit my smile from space.

I’ll sign off with a disclaimer that while things here for me have been nothing short of phenomenal and dream-like, seeing people as poor and needy (in the literal sense) as I have is mind-blowing in an entirely different dimension. At least for now, I’ll leave some of my photography to help tell that story, but suffice to say that if I’ve ever thought I was mistreated or that life was tough, I had no idea what on Earth I was talking about. The living conditions of some people and families here makes me first bewildered and then ashamed. It makes me ask myself what more I can do. And I’m working on that.

Feeling blessed, fortunate, guided, and joyous,

Cameron

Spiral

The pressure of a thousand pounds pushes onto me. Can you relate to that? One thousand pounds – the weight of a bull shark – which probably helps with your relationship to the measurement slightly less. Turns out, someone’s erected a sculpture of butter that apparently weighs one thousand pounds. Again, probably hard to picture that amount of weight atop you, suffocating any effort to remove such a mass. Have you ever felt this metaphorical weight against your chest, whole body, or head?

The pressure to move one’s self into a position greater than that which they are currently seems to have consumed my thoughts, taking hold there as if it were a giant screw being turned daily. I think to myself, “imagine the screwdriver”, but in fact it wouldn’t need to be any bigger than a normal-sized screwdriver to still turn a giant screw.

It’s not the “greater position” that is even desired when such consumption happens, but the feeling of success, or growth, or novelty, or… Maybe I’m just at a point in my life where I sometimes I just feel like I don’t know where to go from here. Does this feel like a complaint in some way? My life is entirely amazing, which may but likely does not offset any sentiment  similar but not limited to “whining” that these words provoke. And maybe not knowing where to go from here comes from not knowing where I want to go from here. In reality I’ll soon be going to Kenya to work for CURE, a year-long life-altering event for which I could not be any more excited.

However, already I’m being asked, “So, what happens after the year?” Can’t I just get there and find out? We can even find out together, all of us. Maybe I’ll actually enjoy what I’m doing enough to continue doing it, maybe I’ll move to another country and do the same type of work there, maybe I’ll come home and be a social worker, or wait tables, or open a small business. Maybe I’ll continue to try as many different things as I’m interested in until I find one that I want to do “forever”. I don’t know what the year holds for me, I don’t know what I’ll do afterward, or in a month. I don’t even know what I’m eating for lunch and we act like thoughts of years into the future should have already formulated a lasted plan in my mind.

Simply not the way I choose to live. Sure, we have ideas of what may come into our lives, what we may want to do in a year or five, but unless we make a conscious effort through desiring those events the likelihood of those ideas actualizing is slight.

I mean, for goodness sakes I can’t even choose a common theme for a blog! How on Earth am I suppose to choose a common theme for my life? Better yet, why would it be a bad thing if I couldn’t? For now, I’ll continue doing what makes me happy now and what I think will make me a happier person in the future. That’s as far ahead as I feel the need to look.

Is that naive, or immature, or selfish?

Time Travel

if you could go back in time, where would you go? To what time in your life would you return? Why?

Sometimes I feel a haze run over my eyes. Feeling like your world is glossed over like a speed reader with a novel or a baker with cake is no way to live. I want each moment to be full, real, a slow-motion event I can embrace as one of the single best moments if only because it is the current moment. You’re not always going to be 18, 22, 24, 67. You’re not always going to be alive. And when you’re not, will you wish you’d done something different? Will you even be able to? Will you be able to understand the mistakes you made and the instances you wish you’d been able to foresee happening before they left you with regret?

Should you say, “yes, I’d go back”? Should you ever say should? And if you do go back does it necessarily mean you regret? Maybe you merely want to peer in on your life or the life of another.

The backyard was full of mud from the most recent rain just hours before. Your best friend, a red headed stripling, arrives and accompanies you, your mud, and every action figure plaything you own in short order. Why this time? Such a simple memory – such simple, sheer joy. Hours on end the two of you enjoy the everything-ness of nature encapsulating each particle within and around you. Is it the story you love, the friend, the childhood memory, the feeling you had within those countless hours of muddied feet, hands, and plastic? What if it is something more than that? A greater sentiment returning again and again in your mind to relay a message. 

Maybe the message is that you need someone when you doubt yourself. You want to share the moments of simplicity, the muddy moments, and the overwhelmingly plastic-filled moments with someone with whom you connect on a level you don’t think others can understand. The beauty though, seen now that you’re older, is that these connections aren’t as rare as some make them out to be. Even better, these moments of utter beauty don’t have to be rare either, they can be found in every breath of life. Connections surround us now more than ever and people really aren’t always as negative as our typical News portrays. Reach within yourself and find the childhood joy within if only for a second and try your utmost to embrace it. Better still, share that joy with someone else – known or otherwise.

 

This post was created with inspiration from the movie “Safety Not Guaranteed“. 

Calm Thoughts from an Excited Mind

What do you get when you combine receiving a letter for an interview at a medical school with having two interviews for a position in Kenya with having your best friend in another country? I now know. You get an outright, honest to goodness, no holds bar, excitingly anxious roller coaster ride of a week. Was that enough adjectives? Not really.

While sometimes I may try to stay more on subject, I’ve decided this will be somewhat of a play-by-play of weekly events – a journal-esque entry – that have created possibly one of the most uniquely feeling weeks I’ve lived.

Molly shipped (flew) off to Australia for a semester abroad. There’s not a doubt in my mind it’ll be one of the best experiences of her life. Fortunate enough am I to likely have the chance of sharing some of it with her.

The week started, while a bit on the lonely side, very well. Experiments gave results. Good or bad who’s really to say, but they were there ready and staring at me, waiting for my interpretation. More excited events transpired starting Tuesday, the 24th, when I applied for the CUREkids Coordinator position with the help of my friend Brianna DiGiacomo (bridigiacomo.wordpress.com), the Coordinator in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Applied and ready, I awaited a response eagerly. Wednesday happened with Susan, Philipe, Deep and a whole heap of fun. Thursday. The day. Waking up to a fresh pot of organic coffee gifted by Philipe and Susan, my body and mind were jolted, quite literally, to life. An aside: I drink coffee about once every 3 months on average, if that much, so you can imagine my liveliness following a full cup. Turns out, not only do I get to Skype with Molly Frances over in Aussie-Land (hope that’s even the slightest bit politically correct), a conversation and sight that is always complete magic, but I hear from Brianna who tells me, “You’re in the top 3!” Not an hour passes before another message comes through that reads, “Cameron, you’re in the top 2!!” About 30 more minutes pass and I get an email from Jenny asking to set up an interview. Within 30 minutes, that interview is taking place. That day. Two days after I applied. Things went well and I was told the next step was to interview with her bosses. Sixty minutes went by three whole times before I got an email from Matt at CURE who wanted to set up an interview, which was then scheduled for the following morning. At this point, I was slowly but most surely becoming a nervous, overly excited, can’t-believe-the-possibilities young man (I am still that, right?) wholeheartedly psyched about whatever comes my way. And sure enough, that led to approximately 4 hours of sleep. While I woke at 05:30 to update Molly and read a bit, making possibly the most futile attempt at focusing my mind anywhere other than the impending interview, I began to feel those blasted nerves. The ones deeply enveloped in whatever mechanism it is in your stomach that decides that when you “get nervous” its going to tie a Double Windsor with your esophagus and a bowline with your upper intestines while at the same time combining two half hitches and an overhand somehow in between the first two. How it’s possible I don’t know, but I can now assure you that is most certainly is. Literally, I shook. And that shaking basically continued right up to the point the interview began. Once it did, everything flowed. It went well. We covered all the bases and answered plenty of questions, I said my goodbye and they told me they’d be in touch very soon. It was over in a not at all too soon sort of way, but more in a I feel pretty darn good about that sort of way. So I waited a while. Then I sent a follow-up email like any self-respecting, motivated person who wants an awesome experience such as this one would do, and heard back fairly soon with the instruction to have a good weekend. Knowing that I could relax, knowing that I didn’t necessarily have to be waiting at my desk, computer at the ready and phone in hand all weekend, was a great relief. And for the most part here we are.

Now it’s late. I’m going to sleep. A lot. A whole lot.