Inspired by her son, this mom created a new kind of support group for adult cancer survivors
Nancy Ferro founded Epic Experience to provide a sense of community—and adventure—for survivors in the Colorado Rockies.
Amazing things can happen when you bring together a group of strangers who share a common experience. For the nonprofit I founded seven years ago, this philosophy is core to our mission of empowering survivors of cancer.
This is the story of how, at 56 years old, I started a nonprofit that brings together survivors from across the U.S. for a weeklong program in the Colorado Rockies.
In May 2007, we attended my oldest son’s college graduation—a day filled with tears of joy and relief. A few months later, Michael got a job in a managers training program. On Aug. 28, less than a month after he started, he called me: “Remember that lump I felt and thought it was a zit? Well, it’s still there.” Not what I wanted to hear!
The very next day, Michael went in for an ultrasound. I sat in the waiting room as he was called in. He came out 15 minutes later, looked at me, and said, “I have cancer and we are not going to cry about it.” I sucked up everything inside of me and said, “OK.” But I was not OK. How could my 23-year-old son have testicular cancer?
It was not an easy journey. I watched Michael sink into a deep depression. No one around him could understand what he was feeling, physically and emotionally. Now 12 years later, after many treatments and surgeries, he is doing well.
My life has been filled with family, friends, and work: volunteering for my kids’ schools, helping friends in times of need, and a career in sales and as a development director and volunteer coordinator at a hospital. All these skills led me to found Epic Experience in 2012, because I wanted to help other cancer thrivers like my son. I want them to know they are not alone and they can live beyond cancer.
Cancer is a lonely disease, even for those with lots of support around them. It’s tough to understand unless you have been there. I’m not just talking about the physical impact, but the psychological toll of the disease. Fear and anxiety over medical appointments, cost, fertility, how it will affect your career—these are just a few of a cancer thriver’s concerns.
As I watched firsthand my son go through his cancer journey, I wanted to help others know they are not alone. Watching cancer thrivers go through some of the toughest times of their lives has enriched my life more than words can say.
Watching someone who doesn’t know how to swim glide down the Colorado River on a kayak is amazing. Watching someone who has not been able to walk without a limp cross country ski is amazing. We offer opportunities for activities that push the limits of some. Cancer has already pushed all kinds of limits, so what’s a trip down the river? Add to that finding a new community of people who all share a common bond.
In 2019, we expanded our program to reach more adult cancer thrivers. We held one-day get togethers in Colorado, the Bay Area, and Seattle. We rode horses, rafted, and played games. We added a step challenge so that those who are in treatment in the hospital or done with treatment could encourage each other to get up and move, no matter the distance. The most important thing we did was connect with thrivers and caregivers—and laugh!
I started Epic Experience with the goal of empowering as many adult cancer thrivers as I can. After seven years ago, we now have an extensive wait-list for our programs. Restrictions of how far we can reach are of course financial limitations, but if I can impact one person at a time and sometimes more, I have reached my goal.
I look forward to the years ahead and changing one cancer thrivers life at a time. Founding Epic Experience has changed my life. Watching cancer survivors push past their diagnosis and move beyond cancer is an incredible thing to witness.
Epic Experience’s one-week programs in the Colorado Rockies are free. Support the nonprofit so they can help survivors have the experience of a lifetime. Donate at www.epicexperience.org