Deep in the Black Rock Desert—and arguably even deeper into the Burning Man experience—a hardy crew of cancer patients are burying their diagnoses in the dust. 

The sun is beating down over one of the most inhospitable places on the planet and I can’t remember the last time I slept.

I’m standing beneath a 23-meter-high effigy, listening to a woman named Cinemagirl share her experience of surviving cancer. Her eyes are watering. “I’m not crying because I’m sad,” she says. “I’m crying because of all the love I’ve been given.”

A small crowd begins to walk solemnly towards the Temple, Burning Man’s spiritual focal point where participants go to memorialize the dead. In my two years at the 75,000-person ‘social experiment’ on a dried-out lakebed in Nevada, I’d avoided the Temple—I always felt it was too much of a bummer. But this time is different.