The Beyond Cancer Series started in October 2018 as the Epic Experience Education Series. The goal was to maintain a sense of community among Epic Experience alumni, family, caregivers, and friends, while also providing information and resources surrounding a variety of topics related to living beyond cancer, everything from professional development to mental health. The series was also launched as a way to engage survivors who were still on the waiting list for an Epic Experience camp.
At first, the Beyond Cancer Series episodes happened about once a quarter. With COVID, however, in-person regional events and camps have been postponed, so the series has become a biweekly event to increase opportunities for community and support, even if virtual.
Each episode involves an interview-style discussion with one or more professionals or survivors. In January 2019, I became the unofficial interviewer. Over the last twenty-four episodes, I have met so many passionate, strong, caring people, both experts in the oncology field and thrivers at various stages in their cancer journey. I have learned about resources I never new existed even though I’ve been in and out of treatment for the last twenty years. I’m so thankful these pharmacists, nurses, social workers, and volunteers have been willing to give their time and share their knowledge.
Without a doubt, the most rewarding part for me has been chatting with survivors. I’ve talked to people living beyond brain cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bone marrow transplants, and stage 4 cancer. Each person has been so incredibly open and vulnerable, and we’ve touched on some big personal topics: fertility, sexuality, survivor’s guilt, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, fear, and the side effects that never go away. We’ve talked about living with the new normal, about losing hope and find it again, about finding ways to enjoy each moment.
Several episodes have left me near tears as I listen to the stories: losing the ability to exercise as one did before treatment, telling children about a diagnosis, going wedding dress shopping with daughters “just in case,” receiving a cancer diagnosis when expecting one’s first child, struggling with the mental and emotional challenges that are every bit as real and potentially debilitating as the physical ones. One interviewee has died since our chat, a harsh reminder that this disease doesn’t mess around. Lotus was a shining light, a wife and a mother who exuded peace and hope despite her diagnosis.
My hope is that all viewers—whether Epic Experience alumni, family members, friends, caregivers, or people on the camp waiting list—gain practical tips and resources. Even more, I hope survivors learn they are not alone. Others experience the same side effects, worries, and frustrations. Others feel similar anger, sadness, anxiety, hope, determination, and everything in between.
If you’re struggling to live beyond cancer, reach out to Epic Experience or one of our partner nonprofits: Elephants and Tea, Lacuna Loft, Immerman Angels, and others. We’re all in this together.
~ Gail, a.k.a. Sunshine