Chapter 47: “The Ronald McDonald Bar Harbor Retreat”
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Soon after receiving my camera, the eternal window into my past, we visited the Pediatric Outpatient Oncology Clinic for my typical monthly checkup.
It was here that Betsy, the Pediatric Social Worker, had told us of a yearly retreat the Ronald McDonald House puts on for the families battling cancer. It was the weekend after Labor Day, so the rates were cheap and best of all: they paid for the entire event.
Honestly, I felt dirty taking this entire weekend getaway on the tab of the charity, but in the end, this vacation was more for Mom and Gary who had been there right alongside me in the thick of it.
When we had arrived, we discovered that the retreat was more than mere lodging in one of Bar Harbor’s most popular hotel spots; they also scheduled various events throughout the weekend in order to unify everyone in support during such a tumultuous time.
The events ranged in variety and age orientation. There were comedy shows, painting classes, trips to the local zoo, museums, and wildlife habitats; and myriad more.
This trip had a marvelous side effect; all four of us– Mom, Gary, Travis, and I took a look at the itinerary and agreed upon an unspoken viewpoint: we were going to make this trip about the family.
I knew my Mom and Gary needed it, and I was certain the same could have been said about Travis. I was alive; the worst was over and that was still cause for celebration. What was more baffling is that our family (in any configuration) never really took a traditional “vacation.”
As I mentioned in a prior chapter, my Mom and Dad would threaten Travis and me as kids that, if we didn’t shape up then we wouldn’t be allowed to go with them to our relatives’ houses in Connecticut. Of course, we were constantly at each other’s throats and so that option was out of the question.
We would instead, stay at our Memére and Pepére’s or our Aunt and Uncle’s place in the interim. Meanwhile, we imagined that our parents were skydiving off of a plane made of gold into a pool of Velveeta cheese.
Or something like that.
There was the one time we spent a few days in Boston… but that was to visit our sister who, when also eighteen, had a cancerous tumor on her arm and was undergoing radiation therapy at the Boston Children’s Hospital. So that wasn’t much of a vacation either.
Oh, there was one time that Dad took Travis and me out to New Hampshire to visit Storyland, Santa’s Village and Six Gun City when we were ten and thirteen respectively. Technically, we stayed overnight in New Hampshire so I guess that counts.
Then we went to Connecticut to visit Kylie and Kevin, once in 2002, and then again at the infamous wedding featuring the Pale Wonder, yours truly.
Okay, so the vacations were few and far between. But this Bar Harbor excursion was different. We were staying in a resort-like venue and got to do many fun things together.
After we checked in the first thing we did was attend the hamburger/hot dog dinner that introduced the Ronald McDonald crew and volunteers and allowed the families to get better acquainted.
Aside from the main group events, however, we didn’t spend a lot of time with the other families on the retreat. It’s not that we had anything against them; in fact, we met tons of lovely people whom also had battled their respective family diseases. No, instead, we did a lot of things alone because this was our first real vacation together as a family.
I thoroughly regret this decision now in seasoned hindsight. This opportunity to network with other kids my age (or close to) would have been something that could have very well sown the seeds of fantastic relationships in my life, not to mention being able to help others then in treatment. If I could go back in time…
The next day, we cherry-picked the events that best suited us and the first on that list was a free game of mini-golf at the iconic Pirate’s Cove.
And then we took a scenic boat tour of the islands surrounding Bar Harbor.
Say what you want about the image quality, but the digital zoom on that camera was incredible.
We also paid a visit to the local Marine Wildlife Habitat and then, the zoo.
We did attend one show just for the heck of it. A performer named Charlie Who.
Like I said, all-age events.
All the while, we really refrained from any conversation that was more than being friendly with the other families. I’m not sure why we were so apprehensive, but I can at least speak for myself that I felt like an outsider here. I was an older patient who wasn’t currently undergoing treatment and that daunting feeling of social anxiety had snuggled its way deep into my psyche.
We should have spent time getting to know others like we did when I was actually hospitalized meeting the neighbors in 865 and the folks from Presque Isle.
The last event before we all departed was a lobster, clam, and/or steak lunch at a nearby restaurant. The steak was delicious. I was never going to eat that disgusting sea cockroach or its slimy shell cousins. Nope, I’m taking no part in that.
At any rate, we were eternally grateful to the Ronald McDonald House Charities for such a wonderful time together after such a frightful ordeal. This organization does wonders for those who need it the most.
I’ll admit– I even had a chuckle or two with Charlie Who.
In the end, there were so many families and things to do, but only so little time to spend together as a familial unit, so we chose the latter. The problem was that it had never been a choice, we could have done both, but in our minds, we made it so. I promised myself that if we were invited back next year, things would be different.
They sure were.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.