Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Hangout

When I was diagnosed with cancer one year and 51 weeks ago, I had no interest in speaking with anyone in a similar situation. In fact, not only was I disinterested in the idea, but I was completely repulsed by it. I knew there were support groups at Dana-Farber and elsewhere for young adults with cancer but I wouldn't have gone to one for a million dollars. Even months later, when I learned that those support groups had helped men and women whose opinion I valued dearly, I maybe would have entertained the idea for a million dollars, but I probably still wouldn't have attended a meeting. I didn't want to hear anyone’s cancer story; not on the internet or in a book or in a conference room with trays of cookies. What if my cancer was more deadly than the woman's sitting next to me? What if a story was too sad for me to handle? Or, worst of all, what if a story ended badly? I couldn't deal with any of it. So I stayed away.

There were, however, certain stories that I did want to hear, or better yet, that I needed to hear to power my hope muscles. I craved stories of cures. Perflect plots. Happy endings.

That seems like such a long time ago. 

*   *   *

Yesterday during an extended lunch break, I participated in my first “Google Hangout.” It was an event sponsored by Dana-Farber’s Young Adult Program and lead by my therapy lady, Dr. Karen Fasciano. There were six young adult cancer survivors including myself and the other individuals whose Twitter handles and blogs are beautifully laid out in Bret Hoekema's most recent blog linked HERE.

I hadn’t thought much about the event leading up to it, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it ever since.

You know that Maya Angelou quote that I’ve included here at least twice before? The one about how people will forget what you did and what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel? That’s a great quote for yesterday.

Although I tried to take a few notes to write down all of the brilliant insight this group of young adults provided, I eventually gave up. Because I found myself nodding and agreeing with almost every single point that was shared. I found myself in awe of these men and women’s eloquence, honesty, and strength. Of the passion they so clearly have for life.

Throughout the program, I had this feeling inside me that is difficult to describe. I’d label it, “connection,” if I had to pick a word. It was an awkward thing because, at least in this case, it was a mix of joy, relief, anxiety, sadness, fear, purpose, and hope. And I don’t include any of those words without powerful examples in my mind to back up each of them.

Yesterday’s program taught me several things, including how differently I feel around other young adult cancer patients now as compared to the several months after my diagnosis. I am no longer repulsed by their stories, but rather, drawn to these individuals like long lost friends. I thought about that more after we all hung up. Why did I feel so connected to these people?

Now, I know partly why. Because they get it. What’s “it?” you may ask. To be honest, I don’t really know. Maybe "it" is about expecting life then, all of the sudden and for no explainable reason, facing death. Maybe "it" involves reluctant acceptance, or paralyzing desperation, or heart-throbbing hope. Or maybe "it" is about the realization that if we are open only to the perfect story, then we will miss lots of real-life stories that are better, way better, despite when the ending may come.

Hanging out, if only virtually, with young adults who get it was a true gift. And even if I don't get what "it" is, that's okay. Because I bet they do.


  1. Wow, Tara, I cannot wait to hear about this! So glad it helped you.

  2. Tara - Great to "see" you on the hangout yesterday. You say it perfectly above. Whatever it is, it's just so much easier talking to people about cancer and all that goes with it if they're part of the club, even if none of us wants to be in the club.

    Hoping to resuscitate my blog soon, not for any medical reason, just because.
    Thanks for participating and sharing!