The Body, Mind, Spirit conference this past weekend was fantastic and I'm so happy that I decided to go. Unfortunately I didn't see any of the people that I knew were going because we hadn't made any specific plans to meet and because I didn't know what they looked like I couldn't pick them out of the crowd. This actually worked out ok because I was able to meet a ton of new people.
Instead of sitting in the same spot all the time (my usual M.O.), I sat with different people every chance I got and so was able to meet as many different people as possible. I also made sure to sit with people who were on their own at a table. I've been that person who sits on her own because she's too shy to sit with strangers but who's ashamed to be alone, sure that everyone is looking at her, and who is desperately hoping that someone will sit with her. I wanted people who felt (or appeared to feel) that way to feel more comfortable and at ease and not so much alone.
As an aside... I never thought I'd see the day when I wasn't shy or nervous around people. I have no idea what brought about the change but I'll take it. Of course it means that I'm now the person who'll chat with anyone, anywhere - in line at the store, on the bus, at the mirror in the washroom, or wherever - which some might think is a bit weird, but I'm fine with that.
The conference was composed of a selection of workshops at available during six different times plus other big sessions. I went to four workshops: Creative Art for Self-Expression, Grieving Loss and Celebrating Life, Spirituality and Spiritual Health, and Living with Metastatic Cancer: Support that Works. I thoroughly enjoyed each one.
In the self-expression workshop, we were first asked to draw an image of the cancer on a transparent sheet. Then we were each given a large plain white bag that was supposed to represent ourself and were to decorate it to describe how cancer has affected our lives.
I like this type of creative art class where there's no right or wrong and where you create something person with meaning for you. Exercises like this often help me see things about myself that I hadn't previously seen. In this case, I discovered that the amount of grief I felt for the losses associated with cancer was pretty well balanced by the emotional growth I've seen since I found out I had mets. I had no idea that the two were balanced in this way.
We got to work together in groups of four or so in the grief workshop to create a kite. We covered the kites with a collage of images and words cut out of magazine describing our vision for the future in each of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual lives. Here I realized that if one of those four areas is overwhelmed by loss or grief, I can focus more on the other areas to balance my life and to help move forward. If I'm struggling physically, for example, I can do more with my emotional or mental self; I don't have to only focus on my physical limitations.
Going to the spirituality workshop was a bit of a last-minute decision for me. I wasn't sure I was going to attend anything in that time slot but the leader of the grief workshop had worked with the leader of the spirituality workshop to make the two groups sort of work together. Here we discussed the different ways of expressing or viewing our spirituality. She separated the ways into four types: Head, or meditating on a word or phrase; Work, or helping others in day-to-day life; Heart, or developing stillness through meditation; and Imagination, which is similar to Heart but involves guided imagery.
Clearly these ways overlap to some extent, but most people find it easiest to approach spirituality in one of the four ways. She said that it is best to try and develop all four methods within oneself, which made sense to me. It isn't enough to always make myself an open vessel via a breathing meditation, for example; I have to use other techniques and, most importantly, be spiritual in my actions.
In the metastatic support workshop, the leader (a psychiatric oncologist) asked for a summary about ourselves and then guided an open chat about what we need support for and how we get that support. There were some non-mets people there asking how they could help their friends or loved ones with mets. What should they say? What should they not say?
In answer to those questions, many of us agreed that we don't like hearing about how strong we are, or how much of an inspiration we are, or how you know we're going to beat this, or you know we're going to live a long time, or any of that kind of cheerleading talk because it denies what we're saying. We most want the people around us to listen to us and to give us space to talk about the things that are really important to us, whatever those things may be. We don't want people to just do things for us but to ask if we need anything. People can always say that they're thinking of us, or that they hope today is good for us, or anything dealing with right now in response to what we've said.
In addition to all the workshops, there was a movie on Friday night - Jonna's Body, Please Hold - about a woman who'd had three different cancers. In the movie, a WWII telephone operator keeps the body running optimally until the foreigners move in and set up their home, inviting all their friends over for a party. That's a pretty good metaphor for a tumour, isn't it? :) This movie is really funny and light-hearted but is also profound at the same time. It's definitely worth watching.
Saturday night, Bif Naked spoke about her cancer experience. I'd heard of Bif Naked but I didn't really know anything about her except that she was a punk-rock type singer. It turns out that she's very personable and funny as anything. Her story is compelling not because it's all that different from a "typical" young woman's breast cancer experience but because of the way she told it. She was honest and forthright and put this light spin on this dark experience. I'm honoured to have been able to hear her tell her story.
Of course there's more to a conference than just the conference itself, right? Yep! There's the location and amenities, for example. The conference was held in downtown Toronto at the Hilton and there was a room rate for participants so almost all of us stayed there. It's a nice hotel (I don't know how many stars - three or four, I guess) decorated in an updated mid-century modern-type style. I especially liked that the blackout curtains were closest to the window and glued to the wall so no light got into the room.
The hotel wasn't without issues, however. Friday night I got to hear the kids in the room next to me (or one over) yelling and screaming as loudly as if they were sitting in my room. Saturday night I was woken from a deep sleep at 3am - while wearing earplugs - by the Halloween revelers on the street 12 floors below. Now, I know that the hotel can't help the noise outside and they can't help the way sound bounces up to the higher floors.... but being woken up by noise on the street (while wearing earplugs!!) means the hotel isn't properly soundproofed.
I also wasn`t all that impressed with housekeeping. We'd received a razor in our swag so I shaved my legs Friday night during my bath. Sorry if this is TMI, but I hadn't shaved my legs in quite a while so I left a bunch of hairs in the tub. Saturday afternoon after housekeeping had done my room, the hairs were still there. I had to rinse out my own tub before having a bath which is fine at home but not when I'm paying to stay somewhere...... and the Hilton isn't exactly a cheap hotel.
At least the food was ok during the conference, except for Friday's dinner. That night we had overcooked beef sliders, mini hot dogs, and a few vegetables. The only desserts were packaged ones in our swag. I think (hope) that Friday's dinner was not provided by the hotel but by some other organization and if I knew who they were, I'd recommend that none of us eat there.
Overall, I had a fantastic weekend at the conference! I'd love to go again if it were held in another hotel. Of course now I'm so exhausted from doing all that stuff and being woken so much that I can barely see to type this. It'll take a couple of days to recover from the weekend but it was worth it.