Turning Thirty

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Hopespotters and greetings from sunny San Diego! Today I get to participate in something so fun that I wanted to share.

I am here in San Diego to co-present at the World Congress of Continuing Professional Development. Many of you know that presenting to healthcare professionals is a passion of mine, as I love to share and learn the stories of our days and the things our work teaches us. I am here thanks to Anne McSweeney, President and founder of CEU Concepts who made this happen, my fairy godmother who shared some frequent flier miles and my family and employer who support me in innumerable ways. Oh, and I am here thanks to one very talented and special guy, Tom Wilner. Tom is the writer, producer, performer and inspiration for a very unique play, “Turning Thirty”.


From its website: Based on a true story of a man battling testicular cancer, "Turning Thirty, The Musical" is a journey of courage, love, hope, and family.  With styles of music including rock, gospel, country, jazz, and swing, "Turning Thirty, The Musical" takes you on an incredible ride.

The story begins on the thirtieth birthday of the main character, Conlan. He enjoys his work. He and his wife are thinking of starting a family. However, an unexpected and unwelcome visitor arrives to change their lives forever. Conlan learns that he has testicular cancer and must go through several operations to battle it. His cancer is personified as T.C., a character who sees herself differently than one might expect. "Turning Thirty, The Musical" explores the needed surgical procedures and medical tests, the support of family and friends, and even the humorous side of the struggle through song. As Conlan learns that the sword is not able to stop T.C., he struggles to save his life while trying to bring new life into the world. Join Conlan, his wife Halle, T.C., Dr. Saxon, and The Wizard in an unforgettable story.

Tom’s play is brilliant. As a cancer survivor, the daughter, sister and friend of cancer survivors, I feel like I can say with authority that Tom captures the total cancer package: the highs, the lows, the fear, the hope, the anger and the crucial need for love and bravery. Without spoiling too much, heartfelt and beautifully performed songs like, “I’ve got life and life is good” or “I’m here for you” bring forth the emotional experience of the cancer battle. However, songs that describe life with one ball or that are titled “Masturbating in a cup” illustrate the lesser shared indignities, frustrations and sometimes even humor that come along in the journey.

This summer was the first time I had the opportunity to see Tom perform “Turning Thirty” and I was slated to moderate a discussion with nurses and social workers immediately following. My purpose then, just as it is today, was to help attendees use all the “feels” that they experienced while watching “Turning Thirty” and translate them into improved communication skills with their patients dealing with advanced illness. Having never seen the performance myself, I was somewhat apprehensive.

As is often my practice, I chose to invite some friendly faces to fill the audience in case I was a total flop. Among others, I invited my parents. My Dad, also a testicular cancer survivor, later admitted to me he hadn’t dreaded anything so much in longer than he could remember. But as one of my best supporters, he showed up. That showing up thing is so huge, you know?

By the end of Tom’s performance, everyone, including my Dad, was on their feet cheering. The ultimate “we laughed, we cried, it was so amazing” kind of experience. And that has been true each subsequent time Tom has performed.

Participating in this unique and innovative combined production that was Anne’s vision has brought to fruition an experience that embodies so many of my passions. It has been said that if you are lucky enough to be a cancer survivor, you are lucky enough. That may well be true for most, however I like to use survivorship to inspire others. Moreover, I, like Tom, feel passionate about sharing the whole experience - good and bad, cold and loving- in an effort to better it for those currently in the fight. Tom, with “Turning Thirty”, does this masterfully through song and story. I, too, try with stories and literature and showing up day after day at the door step of patients and families who are scared and confused. My purpose, which I try to infect into other professionals to whom I present, is to arrive with a tool kit of competence, compassion and hope.

If I say so myself, the Tom/ Anne/ Jenny show in San Diego was a great success. It was clear that the audience really connected to the performance and presentation. Sometimes working in hospice is hard and some days I wish I had chosen another path. The ability to take my personal and professional experience to opportunities like these really does make it all worth it.