April 2nd, 2012
Picture what it is like, being in the hospital.
The sterile, enclosed environment. The fluorescent lights, the rooms designed for medical treatment, not for any kind of aesthetic pleasure. The machines ominously whirring and bleeping. The periodic sounds of crisis in the hallways. The shadows of mortality and frailty. The bland, institutional food. The strangers who come in, announce their names with varying degrees of engagement, perform tests, invade your body, give treatments that cure but hurt. Isolation from family and friends. Pain, discomfort, frustration, uncertainty, followed by hurried interactions filled with obtuse, technical language.
What is the opposite of being in the hospital?
Cancer retreats always seem to provide an answer to this question. I’ve been to a few now, so let me explain.
Life Beyond Cancer said that the opposite of a hospital is a spa-like retreat. We had a program of activities at a calm and self-directed pace, delicious healthful food, companionship, inspiration, and activities to soothe and heal the body.
Little Pink Houses of Hope sets its retreats at the beach: fresh air, sand, the expansive ocean, and sunshine. Our days were filled with art, outings, no financial stress and quality family time.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of going to the OMG! Cancer Summit For Young Adults with StupidCancer.com.
(Faithful readers may remember that they are the group with whom I ran my first post-treatment half marathon.)
Stupid Cancer has a different answer to the Opposite-of-a-Hospital question:
Photo by John Sabia
Literary theorists talk about the human need to turn the World Upside Down (WUD). Think Charlie in the Chocolate Factory or Dorothy in Oz. It’s a way of regaining equilibrium, particularly after a stressful situation.
My belief that cancer retreats seek the Opposite-of-the-Hospital to help us regain equilibrium.
Vegas definitely turns the hospital world upside down. Raunchy, smoke-filled, hedonistic, youthful, indulgent, living in the moment, sin, impulsiveness, swaths of people, over-the-top spectacles, the cacophony of music and slots.
More importantly, the conference itself was terrific.
Workshops focused on a combination of social and emotional issues relevant to young adult survivors: sexuality and body image, dating and relationships, spirituality, links to the environment, careers, insurance, advocacy.
Then we would do things like dance to a DJ in a rooftop nightclub.
Screenwriter Will Reiser spoke with Stupid Cancer founder Matthew Zachary on Saturday after receiving the first ever Extreme Survivor Award for 50/50, his film about a young adult diagnosed with cancer.
Will Reiser & me. He’s a super nice guy.
That night, we had a midnight showing of 50/50. It’s a great film that captures many of the truths of young adult cancer, despite the few inevitable Hollywood touches.
Although I had seen it before, there was something unspeakably wonderful about sitting in a room full of young adult cancer survivors. We bonded through knowing laughter and deeply pained tears of recognition. At the end, my companions and I had filled our table top with tissues. We needed no words to explain the sobbing that overtook so many of us.
But tequila helped.
What happens in Vegas gets posted on the Interwebs. But it was a moment worth remembering.
I was invited to speak on a panel on life after treatment.
(YouTube video forthcoming…)
My friend Naveh says with my purse out front it looks like I walked in off the street
and strolled up on stage saying, “Let’s do this thing!” then went shopping.
When you meet other young adults who have been through cancer, you can tell your back-story in two sentences. In normal life, it takes paragraphs to explain a cancer experience. Even if you get that far, it never adequately captures the experience.
Starting the conversation so deep into something that has profoundly altered your life allows you different kinds of conversations and connections, the kind that deepen your own understanding of your self and something that has touched you at your core.
That kind of experience, without a doubt, is the World Upside-Down.
This entry was posted on Monday, April 2nd, 2012 at 6:29 pm and is filed under Survivorship. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.