Adversity to creativity: cancer survivor and former camper writes debut fantasy novel

“I woke up at 4 am to hear wolves yapping. I was still pretty groggy, but then suddenly I shot up: ‘They’re yapping because they’re circling me.’ I ran out of the tent to see five sets of eyes in the dark — three on the left and two on the right.”~ Dan Stourac

Dan was 19 years old when he took his first job as a big game hunting guide. He joined his two older brothers Ben and Lorne on a 500-kilometre trek through the Yukon and Northwest Territories. One of the world’s longest trail rides, it would be one of the loneliest and toughest trips he’d ever make, testing his physical and mental stamina in ways that hadn’t been tested in years.

L-R Lorne, Ben and Dan Stourac on a guiding trip.

It was their second season up north and, unlike the first season, the weather was unseasonably warm that fall. When Lorne was flown out to do a backpack hunt and Ben and the hunter left to take advantage of the late caribou migration, Dan stayed behind. He was alone with six horses and a promise that they would return in three days.

“Three days! Three days!” says Dan. “They promised they’d be back in three days.”

Horses are essential to the trip, carrying loads of gear and supplies from one campsite to the next. Dan stayed behind to tend to the remaining horses. On the second day, Dan was cooking sheep steaks on the fire when a bear started coming toward him. The bear was about 20 feet away on the other side of the river, jerking his snout in the air, sniffing out his next meal. Dan stood there dumbfounded with a couple of steaks in his hands.

Dan and his horse Ditto at the end of their 500-kilometre trek.

“I started yelling and taunting the bear,” says Dan. “‘Do something! Me or you! Give me a reason!’ I had my shotgun nearby and as I stood there waving and yelling, the bear casually walked on by. I knew he would come back at night, after I untied the horses to graze.”

Sleep didn’t come easily for Dan that night. He eventually dosed off at about 2 am, but was roused from his sleep a couple of hours later.

“I woke up at about 4 am to hear wolves yapping,” recalls Dan. “I was still pretty groggy, but then suddenly I shot up: ‘They’re yapping because they’re circling me.’ I ran out of the tent to see five sets of eyes in the dark – three on the left and two on the right.”

He fired a shot into the night and five sets of eyes disappeared. Losing any hope of sleeping that night, Dan built a large fire and waited for the sun to rise. When the sun did come up, Dan set out to gather the horses. It was a bit unnerving for Dan as he tracked the horses’ hooves, which were overlaid with fresh wolf tracks. He brought back all six horses. They were a bit edgy and nervous, but untouched by the wolves.

“When Ben and the hunter didn’t return after three days, my head went to a bad place,” says Dan. “I wondered if they were hurt. I couldn’t go look for them because you can’t pack and trail six horses on your own. I couldn’t leave the campsite because the wildlife would destroy our gear, rummaging for food. I was pinned down and assuming the worse.”

Dan as a youngster, receiving cancer treatments at the hospital.

No strangers to adversity, Dan and his family had already battled their worst nightmare, when at age four, he was diagnosed with leukemia. At the age of seven, still on treatment, Dan and his brothers went to their first summer camp through Kids Cancer Care. The boys grew up going to cancer camp and Dan credits camp with building the strength and resilience he needed to survive his experience in the Northwest Territories.

“Camp is so much more than putting a smile on a kid’s face,” he says. “A smiling face is just a small glimpse into the impact you’re having as a donor. You’re building a foundation for growth. You’re building character. You’re building courage and resilience. Camp is showing kids, who will grow up and show others, that life is amazing. It isn’t just fueling an environment where kids can rest and have fun. It’s fueling an environment of human potential and growth, showing kids how to believe in themselves and how to become better people. That’s what camp was for me.”

Alone in the wilderness with little more than his thoughts, Dan started missing cancer camp badly that September. “My head space was really bad,” he says. “That summer was the first time I hadn’t been to summer camp and I missed it. I missed my friends. I missed the counsellors. I missed everything about it. I decided that if I couldn’t be at summer camp, I would bring it to me. I was trying to keep my head straight, so I started writing to divert my thoughts. For days, all I did was eat and write in my journal. I knew if I got out of there alive, this would be my first novel and I would dedicate proceeds to Kids Cancer Care.”

Dan is fully embracing life with all of its pain and beauty.

On the seventh day, Ben and the hunter returned, all smiles and swagger, showing Dan the sheep and caribou they harvested.

Eventually, Dan’s cancer-related health issues would force him to quit guiding for a living. With a bad heart and Raynaud’s syndrome, his body struggled to tolerate the shock of subzero temperatures.

“We were tenting in minus 20 overnight,” recalls Dan. “I started having really bad heart palpitations that third season. My heart was beating 230 beats per minute. You could see my chest vibrating. I lost 23 pounds of muscle and had to cut my third season short. I had to pick a different path in life.”

Eliminating the possibility of ever guiding again, Dan returned home, taking on odd jobs, while finishing and self-publishing his first novel, Grim’s Prodigies, under the penname Remmy Stourac. Facing his own mortality on more than one occasion, in his first novel, Dan takes on death once again — this time on his own terms.

Dan’s first novel.

Grim’s Prodigies is the first book in a fantasy series called The Reaper’s Inception. Dan’s playful spirit and love of language are evident from the start. Its lively energy and easy humour stand in stark contrast to its serious subject matter.

The Grim Reaper in Dan’s story is no static character. He struggles and grows over the course of the book. He transforms from a soulless demigod, ruthlessly taking the lives of his victims, into a being who cares about the people he takes.

“I wanted to change the perception of death,” says Dan. “Death changes the perception of himself in the book. He’s trying to make these kids, the four prodigies, appreciate life and keep the world going even with all its pain and suffering.”

Cancer and the chance to go to camp each summer similarly changed Dan’s perspective on life and death. “Camp totally transformed me. It gave me a new appreciation for life and a willingness to totally embrace life and all its setbacks.”

Later, as a counsellor and volunteer at Camp Kindle, Dan saw the transformative power of cancer camp in the lives of young campers. But this time he was able to see it as an adult.

“Camp Kindle has this challenge-by-choice philosophy and it is incredible to see how this seemingly insignificant thing is so meaningful and life-changing for kids,” Dan says. “The summer I was a counsellor, there was this little girl who was terrified of heights. She must have been about 10 or 11. She’d lost her brother to cancer and it was super terrifying for her to go on the giant swing. There was a lot of talking with her, when suddenly she decided: ‘I’m gonna’ do it for my brother.’ She went right to the top. That moment on the giant swing literally became a choice for her and it was a life-defining moment. Tears were streaming down her face when she came down. She was so happy: ‘My brother and family are sure going to be proud of me.’”

Pictured here with SunSeeker teens last summer, Dan is a role model and mentor to young people at Camp Kindle.

Dan believes you need to give young people a chance to choose and then wait to see what they do. If you give them a choice and a chance to step outside their fear, they may not be so afraid to stand on their own when the peer pressure sets in later in life. This is what camp did for Dan and why he is dedicating a percentage of the proceeds from his first book to Kids Cancer Care.

“Camp will always be my home,” says Dan. “I will always take the opportunity to give back to Kids Cancer Care. Everyone should have the chance to see camp in action and watch these kids grow.”

If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for that person who has everything, why not order a copy of Grim’s Prodigies? Ten per cent of the proceeds will go to Kids Cancer Care and you’ll be opening a door to an epic new world of monsters and mortals and a refreshing and authentic new voice in sci-fi fantasy. To order your copy or for a full book review, visit http://remmystourac.com/.

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2 thoughts on Adversity to creativity: cancer survivor and former camper writes debut fantasy novel

  1. Brilliant! This story made me laugh and cry. How inspiring! Dan has grown into a wonderful young man. I like that he has given back to Camp Kindle as a camp counselor and volunteer. Good luck with your series of fantasy novels, Dan or should I say Remmy?

    Kids Cancer Care, I am already on your email mailing list.

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