Connecting survivors coast-to-coast

By Diane Spencer

April 23, 2009

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I never dreamed I would sit in a room full of young adult cancer survivors and listen to the voices of strangers echo my own thoughts and experiences. At 30-years-old and as a new mother in rural Nova Scotia, I felt very isolated in my disease. I could not imagine a reality that included national conferences focused specifically on cancer amoung young adults.

This year I’ve had the pleasure to attend not one, but two, such events held by Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC), formally RealTime Cancer. This summer, I spent five days in Jouvence, Quebec for Retreat Yourself 2008 and in October, I participated in the Kicking Cancer’s Ass Conference (aka: Survivor Conference 2008) in Lake Louise, Alberta.

Every year, these events bring young cancer survivors and supporters together to share their stories, to inspire each other, to laugh, to cry, and to consider what they have to offer others.

Geoff Eaton, founder of Young Adult Cancer Canada, had a vision upon his own cancer diagnosis in 1999. Geoff’s vision included a support system for young adults dealing with cancer. He recognized early in the game that survivors and their supporters have lessons to share with others. These lessons are important to the healing process and are valuable both to those newly and yet-to-be diagnosed. He launched an online community called RealTime Cancer, a web-based support tool that promoted survivor stories and generated virtual community support.

Having met Geoff in June 2006 at a Cancer Care Nova Scotia Survivor Roundtable, I was intrigued when I received an online invitation this spring to attend Retreat Yourself. This one-of-kind Retreat took place and was delivered in partnership with Montreal-based Hope & Cope, a non-profit, support organization for cancer patients and their families.

The weekend was free to 31 survivors and supporters, and the program focused on sharing the wisdom of the participants and building a community of others who truly “get it.” Everything from fertility and relationships, to loss of dreams and redirection was discussed amoung survivors, supporters and health professionals.  For some, Retreat Yourself marked the first occasion to speak to someone their age in a similar circumstance. For others, the Retreat provided an opportunity to witness the experiences outside the parameters of their specific cancer for the very first time.

The YACC Conference also involved sharing stories and inspiration, but facilitators also prompted participants to consider how they might help the larger community.  For every 30 attendees at a Conference or a Retreat, there are another 6470+ young adult cancer survivors per year in this country. We know these survivors would benefit from attending Retreat Yourself and/or the Survivor Conference.  These events provide opportunity to share and be heard, to listen and to learn.

At every event, a community is born. A community of supportive, understanding people with one thing and every thing in common. I would encourage any young survivor to consider attending one or both of these events. Supporters who want to learn more about helping their loved one through a cancer diagnosis, or learn how to live well after the battle, should also attend. You are not alone.

Based out of St. John’s, NL, Young Adult Cancer Canada not only hosts these events free of charge, but also subsidizes travel for both survivors and supporters. In addition to event information, surfers will find an abundance of survivor profiles, health information, an online community, a photo gallery, fundraising opportunities and YACC background information. Check it out.

[Published in CBCN’s Network News]

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