Heather’s blog: What to expect before your first Conference

May 11, 2015


“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

– Captain Jean-Luc Picard


Sentiments very similar to Captain Picard’s words were running through my head as I walked into my first YACC Survivor Conference nearly four years ago. I was two years out of treatment for cervical cancer, and somehow I had signed up for this thing that I found on the Internet, with people I did not know, people I had never met, people I had only had a brief phone conversation with before filling out my registration and booking my flight to go to Ottawa. The final frontier? This very well could be mine. What had I gotten myself into?

The fear and the apprehension of walking into a room of nearly 100 strangers and having dinner with them — all while trying to find some sort of common ground to carry on anything resembling a conversation — was definitely there, but there was also something else, too. Enthusiasm, and the instant relief that the common ground was already there. These people were just like me. I was no longer alone.

When I signed up, my original mission was to find other cervical cancer survivors. I wanted to connect with them, and hopefully grasp a better understanding of my own treatments and the effects I was dealing with afterwards as a result. Even the best planned missions don’t always go according to plan.

YACC gave me an entire network of people — survivors and supporters of not just cervical cancer, but all different types of cancer. It gave me the opportunity to feel like I wasn’t so alone anymore, and I now had people who I could be real with, and who could be real back, and then, I got real with myself.

I knew I was struggling with the long-term effects cancer had on my body and everything I had gone through from a medical stand point. As for the emotions that go along with a cancer, I hadn’t even considered or acknowledged them yet. I went into my first conference knowing I needed something, but I don’t think I had a very clear understanding of exactly what “something” was. I wanted to reach out and latch onto something I could relate with. Looking back, I hadn’t actually figured out what I needed, and how much I truly needed it. Survivor Conference 2011 was just the beginning.

When I had the opportunity to attend my second YACC program, Retreat Yourself Alberta 2013, I was in a place where I needed to heal, and I was working through all of those emotions that had now come to the surface. That’s putting it nicely — I was a wreck!

I vividly remember a very raw moment where I had to lock myself in one of the bathroom stalls, and I cried the ugly kind of cry. My whole body shook, my face contorted into all kinds of gruesome impressions, and I was covered in red splotches. This was progress!

I needed to cry like that. I needed to give way completely to the sadness, the grief, and the anger I was feeling, and give myself permission to sit with it, all of it, in that moment. I let it all out on that bathroom floor. The great thing was that I knew I now had this entire network of people who could help me through it. They accepted me, red splotches and all, they got it without explanation, and from there I started to move forward.

Now as I get ready to attend my fifth YACC event, Survivor Conference 2015, I feel I can say I have moved into a place of acceptance. Whereas I once focused largely on everything I felt cancer had taken from me, I can now look forward to what it has given me, and I have the strength to give just as much back.

If you are new to the YACC family and this year’s conference will be the first program you are attending, there is good chance you are feeling similarly — if not exactly — as I did at my first conference. I hope I have given you some reassurance that you are not alone, and that this is not a place where “no one has gone before.” I’ve been there. We’ve been there. We have all felt the same fear and uncertainty of the unknown as you are possibly feeling now. As you come forward to explore this new territory and seek out this new life, know that you have our support in whatever capacity you feel you need to use it. YACC’s got your back!

The theme of this year’s Survivor Conference is “uPOWer.” YACC kept coming back to this idea because they want you to feel empowered, and encourage you to use that power to live a better life, feel better about yourselves, and to take your new found power and share it with everyone else around you.

My friends and I used to sometimes ask one another, “If you could have one super power what would it be?” The answer I most commonly gave was, “I would have the power to steel everyone else’s super powers.” Clever right? What YACC has helped realize though, is that I already possessed my own super power. We all do! We sometimes just need a little encouragement to recognize it and use it to its fullest magnitude.

So I want to know what is your super power? Whether you are attending Survivor Conference 2015: uPOWer or not, I would love for all of you to take some time over the next ten days to think about what your power is and share it with me! Email it, post it, tweet it, Instagram it; I want to hear them all! What is the best part of yourself? What do you feel you can give back to the world? We all have unbelievable strength to make an impact, and I want to know how you make yours!

Live life on purpose.
Heather xoxo


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