Almost six years ago, a few months short of my 29th birthday, I was diagnosed with a rare pediatric cancer, Ewing's sarcoma. Yes, pediatric. So despite my age, I was treated in the children's ward, which certainly had its upsides. Anesthesia for procedures adults are usually expected to just grin and bear, like bone marrow aspirations. Posh accommodations with flat screen TVs and advanced screening DVDs of movies out in the theaters. The kids' menu.
The downside, of course, was that people my age were few and far between. I wasn't by any means the only adult pediatric patient (or geriatric ped as I like to say), but I was twice as old as the teen-aged patients who were the cohort closest to my age.
About a year after I finished chemo, the organization I'm Too Young For This!
hit the headlines in The New York Times
magazine. I'd previously joined a young adult support group at Gilda's Club in Manhattan, but it was only three people and myself. But iy, as it's abbreviated, was a gateway to a slew of young adult survivors in New York City, where I lived at the time and where the organization is based.
I attended some of their happy hours and their annual "Un-Gala" and even participated in discussions on next steps for the organization. It was invigorating to meet people my own age who'd been through the cancer machine. Or were still going through it.
At the end of this month, I'm attending iy's 5th Annual OMG! Cancer Summit for Young Adults in Las Vegas. Despite the fact that the event has been held in New York City, or at least New York State, for most of the previous conferences I was never able to attend. But Vegas is incredibly motivating, as is the program of the conference, particularly the events surrounding the movie 50/50
, in which a young man has a spinal tumor not unlike the one I had, was another turning point in my cancer recovery. At the OMG! Summit, the movie's writer, Will Reiser, who based the story on his own experience, will be honored and the film with have a midnight screening. It was moving to watch in the theater, but I anticipate that watching it surrounded by other YA survivors will be an entirely different experience. I think we won't be as afraid to laugh at the funny bits because we get that it's not all doom and gloom. (When I saw it in the theater with a lay audience, I noticed that the room got rather awkward when the movie took non-serious turns.) You have to take the humor where you can.
I'm also psyched to see old friends from iy New York and my new iy Boston family, as well as people I met a few summers ago at the survivor kayaking camp, First Descents
. And then there are a handful of people I've been in touch with but never met. Like Jonny Imerman, founder of Imerman Angels
, a foundation that matches survivors out of treatment with survivors in treatment of a similar age and diagnosis. I've twice been a mentor for Imerman Angels and corresponded with Jonny, but the times he's been in Boston (where I live now), I've been out of town and we've always wanted to connect.
Overall, the conference may be more social than clinical, and that's fine by me. We spend so much time getting poked and prodded and juiced up on chemo and blasted with radiation that some partying is in order. That's what survival is all about, right?
Su Ciampa has written for
Jane and Salon.com. She recently completed work on
No Clowns Please, a memoir about being an adult patient in a pediatric ward. Su also posts on the Stupid Cancer blog and will be attending this year's OMG! Cancer Summit at the end of March.