In this guest blog post, Shine member and new network leader Daniela writes about her experience on the January 2020 Shine Great Escape.
I became involved with Shine after my cancer diagnosis in April 2019. Since then I’d heard a lot about the Great Escape from various people and I so wanted to take part! Phrases like ‘surrounded by people who just get it’ and ‘friends for life’ inspired me to apply and made me really look forward to going.
Initially I wanted to meet like-minded people who were younger and needed a little support to find their way after diagnosis. Although I had had counselling post-surgery, I really wanted to discuss, share and learn from others who had been diagnosed with cancer and have the freedom to not have to explain – just be understood.
The more I found out about the Escape, the more I realised how much could be gained from the experience. I began to think about the issues that were still troubling me. I called them the ‘spaghetti junction’ thoughts and emotions. I hoped that they could be untangled so I could find a clearer direction for the future and begin to understand my thoughts and feelings more, rather than just experience them.
In reality, the Escape far exceeded my expectations. Yes, I was surrounded by people who got it. Yes, I do believe that I’ve made friends for life. And yes, I have begun to untangle the spaghetti junction of thoughts and emotions – but I can’t even begin to express how much more I gained.
The Escape is completely safe, giving you the freedom to explore your thoughts and feelings without judgement. There is a whole lot of love, support and understanding from Shine Directors Ceinwen and Emma, the peer support leaders, the counsellors, your fellow ‘Escapees’, and this year even from some rather lovely alpacas!
All Escapees are at different stages of their diagnosis, all different ages, family backgrounds, and so on, but somehow none of that matters. As the weekend progresses, it’s as if a glue (metaphorical, of course!) is spread across the group and bonds you together. In some discussions you may take more of a lead and provide support and understanding for others, and in other discussions the group will support you. There are no boundaries and no trump cards on the Escape. There were some tears, but most importantly there was empathy, advice, guidance, and lots of hugs.
What I took away from the weekend, apart from a few extra pounds after having a cooked breakfast every morning (optional of course!), is a greater sense of perspective and acceptance. On diagnosis, my thoughts were ‘this is such an inconvenience, I really don’t have time for this’. Then I realised that no matter what I did or felt, I had to put my faith in my doctors and take one day at a time.
Now I am not in so much of a rush to get back to the way I used to be. Instead, I have begun to accept that there will be a new normal. I accept the need to be kind to myself and allow myself the space and time to heal both physically and mentally. Life can change in a moment, so now I try and fill my time with the people I love and who love me, doing what I actually want to do – or not do, as the case might be. It’s all about JOMO now!
I feel proud of everyone I met at the Escape, and proud of myself, for everything we have endured and still do. You know what? We are a pretty awesome, tough, and (dare I say it?) brave and inspirational bunch!
For anyone pondering the Escape, please take the step and fill in the application form. The Escape is not a ‘relaxing spa weekend’ and at times it can be emotional. You do end on a high, though, and it’s a big one! If you are reading this and have any doubts about applying, please don’t worry and do it. It will be a weekend that will stay with you for life (in a good way!), and you get a free t-shirt. It’s a win-win!
I must give a special shout-out to Ceinwen, Emma and all the volunteers (including Tatum’s yoga balls!) for their time and support. On my return home, I’ve described the Escape as 10 counselling sessions condensed into a weekend. It sounds intense and it is, but words don’t even begin to do justice to the support it brings.
Shine has been the main charity to support me since diagnosis. My experience of the Great Escape has cemented in my mind that I want to become a more active part of the Shine community. I am now becoming a London network leader (exciting!) and I would also love to be a volunteer peer supporter at an Escape in the future. Maybe I’ll see you there one day? I hope so!