I’m not sure where to start; this is another one of those rare times when I’m finding it tough to find words. Though, admittedly, this doesn’t happen often, I think I can say with confidence this past weekend was the most significant time in RealTime Cancer’s five-plus years of existence. There may be a few other days that are as significant for me personally, but as far as our initiatives are concerned, this weekend was definitely the pinnacle.
We started gathering on Wednesday last week, were all here by Friday night, and the last left yesterday. Twenty-eight of us epresented seven provinces; we were mostly survivors (some of us came with our supporters). We were many years away from treatment, and we were literally in the middle of it. We were and are young adult cancer survivors and supporters. While we had different cancers we have walked such similar roads. Many of us, even those with great support, have travelled alone, missing the companionship of those who truly “get it.” We got together to talk about our sh*t, literally and figuratively.
A little over two years ago, we started to get serious about creating an online community where young adults could connect and “share their sh*t” (yes there’s a great story behind that line that originated from the weekend, I’ll share another time). About 18 months ago, that online community was launched and the building phase began. It has flowed very well and as amazing as that tool is to facilitate the connection of survivors and supporters the reality is that it can’t replace personal face-to-face contact, nor was it meant to. It had always been our intention to bring the community together.
This past weekend, we hosted Retreat Yourself for the first time. The weekend was full of guts, honesty, and–in my humble opinion–went a long way in eliminating the isolation that so many of us had been living in. There is something very powerful about throwing out your fears and greatest challenges to complete strangers and having them respond unconditionally and truly get what you’ve experienced.
Where we go from here, while I know it will be in roughly the same direction as we were previously headed, the reality is I’m going to need a few days, or possibly even weeks to figure things out.
This was an incredible experience for me, and while I’m so overwhelmed right now, I know intellectually that RealTime Cancer’s vision is closer to realization than ever before. There is still a massive amount of work to do, and so many opportunities to continue putting young adults in a place that is more free of isolation, but as my friend Ferris Bueller told me, “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I’m taking time to look around, ’cause I couldn’t miss this!
You know in a strong, powerful way, as we sat in our circle on Friday, at the official beginning of the Retreat program, we all realized the obstacles our new friends had faced and how many of them were still facing huge challenges. As we opened up, the display of “guts” blew me away. And as I sat there it became more apparent than ever that RealTime Cancer’s work isn’t just important, it is absolutely essential.
Through the course of promoting the Retreat, we reached out across the country to cancer centers and other community organizations. Their feedback was encouraging, and as they learned about our operations, they were often so impressed by our track record and list of accomplishments “by such a small organization.”
I’m not sure how to take that, as it is a nice complement, but the reality is, I can’t imagine it being any other way. So our budget continues to grow, though–as you may expect–not nearly as quickly as I’d like; our operations continue to evolve; and our programs are reaching new people. I often have this daydream that I win the lottery–big win–and that RealTime Cancer no longer has to fundraise. That will most likely never happen ’cause I don’t buy tickets.
This weekend was amazing in so many ways, and it has given me another push to focus and significantly increase our revenue so we can significantly increase our capacity to create and deliver these essential programs and continue to help young adult survivors and supporters “deal with their sh*t.”
Live life. Love life.