I’ll start by saying writing this post has caused me internal agony – and I’m not talking about the gutsy variety, but more like the heart-wrenching writers’ block variety. Why? I’ve been asking myself that from the time I first sat down to write this in the airport nearly two weeks ago. I think it’s because I still can’t comprehend that the Learning Session (henceforth known as ICNLS) is over.
As the inaugural Patient Scholars, Jennie and I traveled to Chicago the weekend of October 5 – 7 to work, learn, and represent the PAC, ImproveCareNow’s Patient Advisory Council, at ICNLS. The “pack” is a group of motivated high school and college students with IBD, dedicated to paying our experiences forward to benefit ImproveCareNow’s interventions and the next generation of pediatric IBD patients.
ICNLS is a semi-annual opportunity for clinicians and researchers representing ICN care centers around the country and London to come together to share and inspire each other. This Learning Session integrated Jennie and myself as PAC representatives to learn from the team presentations, participate in PAC leadership brainstorming sessions, and interact with the care teams. As the commencement ceremony of our initiatives as Patient Scholars, we hardly had a moment to reflect on our incredible circumstances. Yet, despite the restless nights spent in awe of our company, I couldn’t have asked for a more energizing weekend in IBD wonderland.
Exhilarating. Fast-paced. Wonderful. Inspiring. Incredible. Over. When Jennie and I danced to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” a song Taylor Swift wrote especially for Jennie’s dear and departed colon, we didn’t yet realize the words would later hurt. For the record, I don’t expect to never ever see you again, but even six months can feel like forever when you know what’s out there. A group of strangers never felt more like home. Thank you.
The theme of the Learning Session was Transitions, in hindsight even more appropriate than I initially realized because the Learning Session itself was a notable transition for me. A Great Point.
The first Great Point in my IBD career was The Diagnosis. My first night in the hospital I spent in room 310. Vulnerable. Alone. Guilty. Feelings I should have never felt, but I did. Vaguely hopeful. For what? I didn’t know then. Remission? I didn’t realize I could or expected to engage in a deeper goal. I thought Moving On meant fighting IBD until I felt as if the whole dirty mess had been a crazy dream. I wasn’t a sick kid, not in my stubborn mind. There have been other significant moments in my journey since then (scopes, Camp Oasis, the first enema, the Prednisone Disaster of 2009, learning that perms do not in fact make steroid face look any better), but none as life-changing as The Diagnosis or worth the title of Great Point.
I wish I could’ve known I’d spend two incredible days in a much nicer room 305, only five digits and (less than) five years off. I wish I could’ve heard the sound of Jennie and I laughing on the twelfth floor of our grand hotel in Chicago, sharing stories about flying with Miralax and ostomates climbing literal mountains. I wish I could’ve felt the rush of our breakout sessions, planning our initiatives for the coming months, feeling the most beautiful kind of butterflies in my stomach rather than stabbing pain. I wish I could have seen Molly, Diane, and Sydney holding up a beautifully ridiculous little sign in the airport and us laughing as we walked to the hotel – the beginning of the next Great Point. I would have smiled more. I would have reached out more. I would have felt okay more. Perhaps I would have known too much. Perhaps I needed the struggle to know why I’m working for change.
ICNLS is over, but this is just the beginning of a new Moving On. A more beautiful and hopeful Moving On.
Are you ready? We are.