Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Painting a Clear Picture - Retreats and Conferences

As more young adults get diagnosed with cancer and find Young Adult Cancer Canada, they become introduced to the chance to attend one of YACC's events to connect: retreats and conferences.  This leads to them asking (almost every time), "What are they like?"  It's a simple question with a very hard to explain answer.  So I'm going to try an analogy, bear with me.

You're a painter, you've finally decided on your masterpiece, your life's work.  You start setting everything up, doing your best to get things in order, and start painting.  As you paint your brush suddenly falls from your hand.  In disbelief, you look at your hand, it's not working right.  The brush is on the floor, paint splatter on the ground.  You look at the painting, there's now a line of paint down the middle of it, painfully obvious that it is out of place.  No matter how you look at things, your hand isn't gripping the paint brush, and you're feeling stuck, with your beautiful vision left unfinished.

You see doctors, tell your family and friends, and try to start some treatments.  You get lots of "advice" from non professionals.  Some tell you to just pick up the brush and paint, you'll get through it, eventually.  Some are convinced that if you don't listen to the doctors and just rub mint on it, you'll cure yourself.  A few do their best to be there for you, but they just cannot relate on any level.  You keep going back to your painting, picking up the brush as best you can, and try to paint like you used to.


One day you walk into your studio and there is a small group of people there.  You look around nervously but take note of one thing: they all have a painting with a line of paint splattered in odd areas.  One by one you all sit in front of your paintings and a person comes into the room.  They guide you through discussions on your works.  Everyone talks about what they were going to paint before their brush fell.  They say how that line of paint has been haunting them ever since it showed up.  There's tears, their laughter, there's a lot of silence, but it's never awkward.  Eventually you realize that the line of paint doesn't have to be a blemish, it can be part of your painting.  You don't leave the session with all the answers, but you connected with others struggling like you.  They might not have the line of paint in the centre of their work, it might be blotches instead of a line, but you all had the brush fall.  You finally have people you can talk to that know what it feels like to look at the paint on the floor, seeing the brush roll away.


Later on that year there's a gallery opening.  Everyone has their paintings on the walls.  Some are completed, some are barely started, some are almost finished.  All the painters are there, they're milling about, chatting, laughing, crying, some even in serious debates.  As you look around you see it's only painters.  Every artwork also has the paint that was out of place.  Some have worked it into the painting flawlessly, some expanded on it, some tried to just paint over it, others have left the odd paint alone.  Most of the paintings have their artist's names written clearly near them, some are labeled anonymous, and a few have big neon lights spelling out the names of the artists, inviting you to talk with them about their experience painting.  As the night rolls on, you join different people and discuss different topics at each group: how you watched the brush fall, different mediums you started trying when painting got difficult, methods doctors are trying to help you with your hands, different canvases and how they affect the paint, what you can do to help insure the paintings, and even what you want done when you finish painting.  Some talks are sad, some are extremely educational, and a few are just plain fun.  The night grows late, a host comes out to thank everyone for coming.  A few words are said for those who are not in attendance.  Several people could not make the journey due to family or health issues, some have felt they didn't need to attend gallery openings any longer, and some have passed on, leaving the most beautiful paintings that touch the hearts of everyone that view them.  The gallery opening closes with music, dancing, laughter, and tears from knowing you won't see each other in person for a long time.  As much as there might be sadness in that the gallery opening is closing, you still feel full of love and joy from getting to be with others that understand your plight.  You excitedly start planning your journey to the next gallery opening as you tote your painting back to your studio and try to pick up your paint brush.

Some of the painters you met had recovered fully, their hands were back to normal.  Other people, the affliction grew further, their arms, legs, or necks are now unable to fully function.  A couple people just started their journey with the issues of their hands.  Some have been living with the affliction for a long, long time.  But no matter what stage the others are at, you all support one another.  You now know you have those people to fall back on when you just want to throw the paints and brushes, scream, and cry.  They will be there when you get good news, they'll empathize when you get bad news, they'll be there whenever you need them.

That's what YACC retreats and conferences are like.  No matter what, they help you keep painting, because no matter where that splash of paint is, they help you see that it's still your masterpiece, and you are one hell of a painter.