Every year in January, we escape! Since 2014, Shine has run a Great Escape in Bournemouth. We’ve had amazing feedback over the years from all of our “Escapees” – young adults with cancer who tell us that over the 3.5 days that they’re together that they make life-long friends. One of our 2018 Escapees, Rosie, has written about her experiences. Want to learn more? Read on! And if you’re interested, we’ll be opening applications for our brand new Manchester Escape in May!
When I was asked to write this blog about my recent experience at the Escape I had to think about my answer for a little while. The first blog that I wrote for Shine nearly a year and a half ago (just a couple of months after my diagnosis) had, looking back on it, a naively positive tone to it. At that time, as far as I could see, my diagnosis and treatment had a beginning, a middle and an end – upon which I would happily return to my old life and then climb Kilimanjaro (as you do).
Well, anyone who has lived with cancer for a while knows that cancer never really leaves you and that you have to go through a period of grieving for your old life and adjusting to a new normal. In my case, my medical team are unsure if my breast cancer has spread to my spine or not and I am therefore now on treatment indefinitely.
My body and my mind have been through a lot and with that I stepped back from blogging because I didn’t feel like I had anything very positive to write about. I didn’t want to be one of those whingeing cancer patients just going on about how sh*t everything is. But the truth is it is sh*t and that’s ok. And it’s also probably a bit more relatable than sickening positivity!
So, I found myself writing this blog and in the process of trying to come up with a catch title, I Googled ‘Escape’ and the first definition that came up was ‘break free’. It made me think of a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly which is kind of how I think of myself before and after the Escape.
When the opportunity came to apply for the Escape, there was never any question in my mind that I was absolutely going to apply. Those I knew who had been before hadn’t stopped raving about it and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a wonderful thing!
I was so excited when my spot was confirmed and I couldn’t wait to meet all of the other “Escapees”. I was pleased to find that I already knew some of them from Shine Camp. A private Facebook group was set up and we were also all asked to submit a picture and a short bio so that we could start getting to know each other before the big day came. This was also really useful for people who were anxious about attending because they were able to share their fears online and everybody was really supportive in return.
It took me a whole 6 minutes to arrive at The Grove Hotel in Bournemouth (I live locally), which is an awesome place for cancer patients and those with life threatening illnesses. As a group, we took over the whole hotel and brought the average age of their usual guests down significantly! The hotel staff were great and seem to enjoy this annual event which is now in its 5th year. The on-call nurse sometimes even doubles up as a bartender….nothing if not efficient!
There were about 30 of us in total including Shine staff, volunteers, and peer supporters.
After collecting our awesome goody bags we were ready to get started. The next few days were a full on mixture of laughing, crying, information gathering, team building, soul-searching, sharing epic-ness. We had entered into a safe bubble and at the end of it, although we were all mentally and physically exhausted, no-one wanted to leave and go back into the real world.
“Life changing”, “one of the best weekends of my life”, “four of the most exhausting but brilliant days I have ever experienced”, “fantastic”, “fabulous” “wonderful”, “amazing”, “incredible”, and “uplifiting” are just some of the words that were used in our post-Escape WhatsApp group to describe the weekend. If that doesn’t encourage you to apply for next year’s Escape, I’m not sure what will!
There were a number of workshops run at the Escape. One of them was titled ‘Debunking myths’ and I think this Russell Howard video sums it up quite nicely!
Another session was called ‘Living with Cancer’. Working in groups, we were encouraged to write down all of the things that we have lost due to cancer….needless to say that those pages were full very quickly and we could have carried on. Some common themes were dignity, confidence, friends, family, control, independence, future, certainty. Is it any wonder that so many of us experience some form of depression, anxiety and/or PTSD following diagnosis? There was ‘on the ground’ emotional support offered by both professionals and peer supporters for the entire weekend and hints, tips and signposting to other organisations given for the longer term. This session was the inspiration for my #onewordforcancer on World Cancer Day.
It is brilliant to have been able to bond with so many other young people who know what it’s like to pick our way through this cancer minefield. Humour is a really important coping mechanism and there was plenty of that in evidence at the Escape. Some of us also decided we should all carry red and yellow cards for those people in our life who get us down!
Saturday night brought with it the opportunity to let our hair (if it had grown back) down, thanks to a photo booth and karaoke provided by the awesome peer supporter Richard.
We were also honoured with a visit from our very own superhero Smash-It Man spreading his #smashitforshine mission. It really did have to be seen to be believed!
Sunday involved a fun warm up, some stones (can’t give away all the secrets but mine involved guilt and being kind to myself) and a trek to Hengistbury Head. The Escape is offered free of charge to attendees but it costs approximately £1000 per person to put on, so the hike is a sponsored event to help pay for attendees next year. It’s not too late to sponsor us here.
Before the weekend was up, there was just enough time to tell the person next to us what we appreciated about them. I was told that they appreciated my resilience in the face of changing goal posts which really meant a lot to me. Just today my oncologist said that it would be against medical advice to climb Kilimanjaro. But fear not those of you who have helped me raise an incredible amount for Shine because there are other options on the table! Watch this space….
It was then not goodbye but more like “see you later” because Shine are organising a reunion for all five years of Escapees in March.
I would just like to take this opportunity on behalf of all of my cohort to say a massive thank you to all the staff and volunteers who are involved in this event. We know that so much behind-the-scenes stuff goes on and we really are forever grateful. Special mention to Christopher who stepped down as a peer supporter this year but remains as Chair of the Board of Trustees and an invaluable asset to the charity.
(Thank you also to everyone who let me use your photos, sorry I couldn’t fit them all in! xx)
Rosie is a member of Shine’s Dorset Network and was a 2018 Escapee.