June 20, 2016
By Kris Parfitt
Photo at right: Kiteboard for Cancer founder, Tonia Farman, plays in the waves during a Caribbean sunset while scouting for future camp and event locations. Photo by Brian Wennersten
Scott Farman was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia when he was 18. By the time a bone marrow donor came available he wasn’t healthy enough to go through with the procedure. In June 2007, 11 months after his diagnosis, he died. He was 19 years old.
“He was 15 years my junior and technically, by age, an adult,” said his older sister, Tonia Farman, who with Scott, was raised in Seattle.
“However, when a young adult—typically under the age of 22—is diagnosed they are commonly treated at a children’s hospital.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, each year approximately 70,000 young adults, ages 18 –39, are diagnosed with cancer compared to 10,000 –14,000 children who are 14 and under.
While children receive many resources because they are young and are not yet on their own, there is a commonly held belief that a young adult will survive and bounce back quickly.
This belief has resulted in a lack of counseling resources for young adults as they go through the treatment process, and for the cancer survivors.
“My brother kept saying ‘there is nothing here (at the children’s hospital) for me. I don’t want clown balloons,’” said Farman. “He kept asking if there were resources for people his age, such as peer groups with whom he could talk about what he was experiencing.
“This age group has a lot of psychological and social issues,” Farman continued. “They don’t just want to talk about cancer, they also have a lot of questions such as the after-effects of cancer and treatment, and most commonly, how to get back into society.
“I did a lot of research and discovered that often when young adults with cancer talked about their fears and concerns, older adults would tell them ‘you’re young, you’re fine, don’t worry.’”
While disappointed, Farman wasn’t planning to do anything about it, but Scott charged her with a request before he passed. “He said to me, ‘you have to make sure no one else goes through this.‘”
She honored his request and over the past decade Farman has made sure that thousands of young adult cancer survivors don’t go through what Scott did, and instead have the resources to battle cancer and transition successfully into society.
In an effort to deal with her grief from Scott’s death and put energy toward something positive, Farman focused on creating a fundraiser doing what the family knew and loved —the outdoors and water sports.
The Kiteboard for Cancer (KB4C) fundraiser first started in 2007 to support non-profit programs helping young adults fight cancer. The idea for a camp started in 2011 after Farman saw that young adult cancer survivors needed more resources.
“These camp allow survivors to share their experiences with their peers while also becoming empowered on the water through surfing, or a water sport of their choice,” explained Farman.
Kiteboard for Cancer eventually became the fundraiser for Camp Koru—as it is called.
Now, a decade later, Camp Koru has hosted over 23 week-long camps in places like Hawaii, Florida, Oregon, and along the East Coast.
The KB4C event was designed to embody the health hurdles and anxiety someone with cancer faces each day. While physically demanding—balancing on a surfboard while managing a large kite in heavy wind—the race is a mental one that is not won by muscle.
This year’s event is scheduled for July 15 –17 in Hood River, Oregon. The 3-mile long loop course takes about six hours and spans the windy width of the Columbia River between the towns of Hood River in Oregon and White Salmon in Washington. Participants average 10 laps per hour, depending on wind and weather conditions.
“It’s harder than a marathon,” said Farman. “I try to remember that, if a cancer patient can endure radiation or chemotherapy for six months or longer, then I can do this for a few hours.”
For more information, check out kiteboarding4cancer.org
When Kris Parfitt isn’t editing OutdoorsNW magazine, she’s traveling the world looking for inspiring stories and people to write about.