Outward bound for cancer patients

Posted May 27th, 2009 by Jane

There’s a charity called Odyssey Holidays who run special free courses for people living with cancer. The website says: “Odyssey is a charity which enhances the quality of life for people with cancer through imaginative programmes of challenging and dramatic activites using the outdoors” and “It uses the stimulation of uncertainty and surprise to help participants rebuild confidence and regain their zest for life.”

Ah..outward bound for the cancer patient..but hang on a minute you can’t actually discover what happens on a holiday because ’surprise’ and ‘mystery’ are part of the package and participants are instructed they must not spill the beans or the fun will be spoilt for everyone else.

Now I’m someone who was never picked for teams at school, can’t swim, can’t run, can’t catch a ball and dreads the thought of abseiling, cannoeing or rock climbing…all of which seem to be involved as far as you can tell from the jolly photographs of people in life jackets and woolly hats…I cannot personally imagine a holiday more stressful or difficult.

But participants come back in numbers to report that they’ve had the best week of their lives, cannot divulge the secrets but urge others forward to Odyssey in an evangelical call to nature.

Now I understand that pseudo outward bound may indeed be something which people with and without cancer enjoy, and I know that the opportunity to meet others with cancer can be incredibly helpful and affirming. But I don’t need to climb a mountain to discover that, let alone be surprised by the opportunity to canoe through rapids.

There are certain kinds of behaviours expected of the cancer patient which include a subtle pressure to improve oneself by correct diet, exercise and putting on a brave face. Most of the charities which provide holidays for cancer patients promote outdoor actoivities. Sail4 cancer is one example.

An alternative for 5 days away could be a visit to the Penny Brohn Centre(formally Bristol Cancer Centre) for tasters in alternative therapies and recipes for vegan food. I don’t fancy this either..I’d be disruptive in the group.

I like gentle walking in the countryside. I like expensive hotels and good food. I like the idea of creative writing; love reading. I’d rather like a free holiday where I could indulge these activities (alongside for some, activities like art therapy and music making) But no one runs them.

The word cancer is not used much on Odyssey’s website. Of late I have realised that still there is something unspeakable about using the word at all. Odyssey has not shaken off the legacy of secrecy. No longer attached to “cancer” itself so lets make the holidays a mystery.