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Write On, Colorado

My documentary work with cancer patients also taught me about dealing with the challenge of COVID-19

Colorado authors, thinkers and readers share their thoughts on living through historic times as the state fights the progress of coronavirus

As a senior at Glenwood Springs High School, I produced a capstone project, a video documentary I called “Connections: A Deeper Meaning Of Cancer.” But that experience also shaped my perspective on the new coronavirus (COVID-19) and the historic pandemic that has touched us all.

Two-and-a-half years in the making, this documentary — which I began at the age of 15 — explored my curiosity about and relationship with cancer: the human connection, the meaning, the life lessons, and how, despite its horrible toll, it can bring positive change in one’s life. The stepping stones of my documentary are inspiring interviews with amazing people, whom I affectionately named my “Tribe,” from all stages of cancer — survivors, caregivers, and those who eventually would succumb to the disease. 

It was a whirlwind of a project that elicited intense emotions. I wrestled over how to approach telling their stories and honoring a part of their lives they openly shared with me. It was overwhelming at times, because finding the meaning of cancer in their lives proved deeper than I had ever imagined. 

With the support of my mentors, my family, and my Tribe, I pressed forward, because every person involved in this documentary showed up for me and became an essential part of who I have become. The connections I made with my Tribe opened my mind to learning how to live life to the fullest in challenging and unpredictable times. 

Their stories are an inspiration to others everywhere. 

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Since my documentary, two people who were a part of my project have died — Nancy and Tom. I miss their presence on Earth, but I have gained their enduring presence in my life. 

Today our world has a health diagnosis called COVID-19, and we can choose if this challenge will defeat us or change humanity for the better. We have a choice of  how to live through the best or worst of any health crisis or life struggle by connecting positively with others. 

The initial news of a life-changing diagnosis can feel like a freight train coming toward you at full speed, and you aren’t sure how to get off the tracks to safety. As a society, we are currently shutting down to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in silence, isolation, and social distancing from each other. 

We are continually looking over our shoulders, wondering if we are the next ones to be infected. It is a game of dodging the virus where our best chance to stay healthy is to cover our faces and hands and avoid close contact by distancing ourselves from others. The most challenging part is the unknown. 

But we can also look at obstacles of COVID-19 in a different light. It is through change that we will discover deeper meaning and connection, by removing what is unnecessary in our lives, being alert to opportunity and planting the seeds of compassion. 

Like COVID-19, cancer has disrupted the lives of many people. As I saw through connecting with families dealing with a cancer diagnosis, we need to show up for one another and recognize life as a precious gift. Wrap each other in prayer, hold space, be present, listen in silence, and keep waiting patiently through the storm. 

These have been the life lessons I’ve learned from my “teachers” and their experience with cancer. They taught me that the future is never in your control and that detours are a part of life, and may ultimately lead to your real purpose. We may grieve the loss of what might have been, but what about the fresh perspective of this change? It offers us a new, clear view of what truly matters. 

The day will come when we will embrace again. And our relationships will emerge even more powerful.

I would like to emphasize these words to the Class of 2020: 

Right now, COVID-19 is everyone’s new reality. Give yourself time to process the change. Accept that we may have missed out on senior-year milestones and memories. These are turbulent times, and life is unpredictable. But ask yourself: What do we do with this? 

We can show up for each other. That is the essential life lesson I learned through my Tribe in the making of my documentary. They filled my cup, and I filled theirs, and together we filled the cups of others with positive energy. 

Allow yourself to feel all your emotions, even the sadness, because they are meaningful. We are collectively grieving a loss, and everyone’s grief is valid. Be scared, put a name to your pain; the disappointment is real. Reach from the inside out and know something is waiting on the other side that is bigger than us. It will reveal your purpose. 

This spring, we are walking the empty streets in isolation from each other with our Personal Protective Equipment, but the day awaits us when we will take off our masks and unveil our changed selves. Let us stand unified, as we are all in this together. Don’t let anything bring us down. Be the change. 

There is a purpose in every journey and our new chapter can bear this title: “Connections: A Deeper Meaning Of Life.”

Please visit my website at aaronjamesadams.com to view my 16-minute documentary “Connections A Deeper Meaning Of Cancer.”


AJ Adams is a senior at Glenwood Springs High School.

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