Well, there are many words, but most of them are inadequate; they will fall far short of acceptable enough to describe the past two weeks. How is it that the events of a certain group of 14 days can change everything you feel about yourself, change your entire future?
But first, some context:
One year ago yesterday was my last day of college. I was in Washington, DC, still taking pictures, running through Rock Creek Park and around the National Cathedral. I was 22 and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life. I was no longer in any sort of active treatment for cancer, and so I thought I was done with it. I thought I could just move on with my life having beat cancer and graduated from college all in four years. But when I graduated on May 17, when I walked onto and across the stage at Agganis Arena at BU with my family watching me on the Jumbotron and all of my best friends sitting on black folding chairs on the arena floor, I had no plan whatsoever for the next day. The funny thing about having no plan is that you will not accomplish anything with it. So I floated through the next few months in Boston, shooting concerts and bartending. And then my mom told me to pack up my life; I was coming back to Chicago. It was either rent or health insurance, and, well, one sort of trumps the other.
And then, at the end of August, 2009, I showed up in Jackson, Wyoming, for a week-long climbing adventure with a bunch of other young adult cancer survivors. First Descents didn't really change my life; it would be unfair of me to take that away from some of the others whose lives it did change. It did, however, change a lot of things about me. I started blogging again; I realized how truly important it was for me to recognize myself as a cancer survivor. I also instantly found a new family, my FD family, and I would be in a much worse place now if it weren't for them.
So. Two weeks ago, I flew to Boston to speak at a young adult cancer conference. I went into the conference tremendously intimidated because the keynote speakers the past few years have been these amazing, successful women who have published books and been on television and pretty much set the cancer-survivor bar pretty high. Me, I am just another person who has struggled with a whole lot of personal issues. But that's what I brought to the table. I am someone you pass on the street and not normally think twice about. I work at Starbucks. Yes, I blog, but there are a lot of better-known or better-worded blogs out there. So I shared my experiences as any other person. I joked about struggling at college parties, and I tried my hardest to say something relatable. And it was a success! The conference was all kinds of amazing. I met other cancer survivors, other young adults who Got what I was saying. If I may be a little immodest, I want to share some of the conference feedback:
This may sound silly, but I don't really have a lot of deep-seated confidence. It's a process; I'm working on it. But to have someone actually Underline that I'm awesome? Haha, that's cool. I can only hope the other young adults left that conference feeling something of the tremendous pride I felt. We are all a pretty amazing group of people.
And then, one week ago today, I hopped on a plane to Grand Junction, Colorado, where I would be meeting 12 other cancer survivors. Once again, I was going to a climbing camp, this time in Moab, Utah, with First Descents. I thought, erroneously, that I had learned everything there was to learn about myself at camp in Jackson. I thought this would just be another opportunity to make new friends and climb and take some stellar photos. All of this ended up being true and then some, but I was also shocked into the realization that 12 people I've only known for a few short days can know more about me than I know about myself. That to actually hear someone tell me they are proud of me and they believe in me means a whole lot to me. That someone pretty much yelling at me that I am "effing awesome," while I blush and shake my head, can actually penetrate my intricate shell.
This time, these people changed my life. I am actually tearing up right now remembering the tremendous amount of love we shared this past week. I am still trying to process everything that happened, everything I learned and came to terms with. So there will probably be another post sometime to try and word-vomit all of that out. But I needed to write something now. This was the beginning of something new for me; I can feel it. I don't yet have a solid plan, but I am so ready to go. It has been a year of waffling, but no more. Things will only get better, and in the meantime, I am just about to explode from all of the emotions I am still feeling.
So that's my update. Sorry it is so wordy... But I figure you only get one of these things every so often; a longer post makes up for it. I hope everyone is enjoying their spring so far. It is almost May! Where is this year going? Best wishes from Chicago, though, and if you're looking for a photographer, give me a holler. Right on. Peace.
photo courtesy of Barry Reese c. 2010