Marisa Personius was diagnosed with cancer, stage III Hodgkin lymphoma, at age 22. Doctors kept her in ICU and she was unable to do anything without assistance. One night after a chemotherapy infusion (a treatment where the cancer-fighting drugs are delivered to the patient intravenously through an IV drip) Marisa was lying on the couch, watching television and someone put on a surf video.
“I saw a guy nose riding and thought it looked like the funnest thing ever,” Marisa says.
She decided that when she recovered she wanted to figure out how to do that (glide across an ocean wave while hanging all ten toes on the nose of a surfboard). It was nice to have a dream but before Marisa Personius could get into the water she first had to survive as she struggled and fought daily through nausea, vomiting, alopecia (hair loss), severe fatigue, a lack of appetite, constant anxiety, and depression—all common experiences for people in her position. According to the American Cancer Society, 1 out of 5 people diagnosed with stage III will die within five years of diagnosis.
Her father had taught her to surf at San Onofre when she was fourteen, but she hadn’t done it much since then. Still, she knew how to catch a wave and stand up on a surfboard.
After she finished her chemotherapy treatment, Marisa went on a trip with a group called, We Are Ocean (@weareocean_org), a non-profit that takes cancer patients on ocean adventures. We Are Ocean helped her get on her first wave post-cancer.
“Pushing myself to really learn how to surf as my body was healing was a challenge that I enjoyed,” says Marisa.
Taking up surfing after cancer was not only a challenge for her but also a way to overcome. Following the infusions, her body felt weak. Some days, she would get out of the water feeling completely depleted and exhausted. Post-cancer, Marisa was still plagued by feelings of anxiety and a dark depression.
Being in the ocean helped renew her; calm her, gave her something else to focus on. As the months and years have progressed she feels her body (and her spirit) getting stronger. Riding waves has become a valuable tool for Marisa to evaluate where her health is at.
It’s been nearly four and a half years since Marisa Personius’ battle with cancer. Today she is working for a non-profit venue called, “The Upper Room.” She organizes events, bringing concerts, comedians, and guest speakers to the public in a way that builds up and encourages people. She is also active in her church, recently mentoring eight high school girls. Marisa says that when she gives up her time to serve others, she always ends up being blessed through it as well.
“Often times, I would rather be in the water more than anything else, so I’ve realized I need to be careful not to prioritize it over spending time with people I love or getting things done that need to be taken care of,” says Marisa.
“I’m a big time kook,” Marisa says. “I hear a lot of people say they’re scared to learn (to surf) because they don’t want to be on ‘kook of the day.’ While learning to surf I had to get over the fact that some days I royally sucked. I had to get over being yelled at by old men. Cussed out. Being called an “obstacle”. Nose-diving. Falling off the perfect wave. Being dropped in on. Getting hit on the head with a board. Getting cut off, etc. etc.—the list goes on and on. Moments like that are frustrating and embarrassing but in the end, every failure and kook-worthy moment has helped me to become a better surfer. Every time I mess up out there It teaches me what not to do next time.”
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