By Krystal Anderson
It was via the YACC Facebook group that I learned about Retreat Yourself and the Survivor Conference. I took a leap of faith and applied to attend the retreat that took place in April 2016; it was life changing. I spent five intense days with other cancer survivors and—even more life-changing for me—other young moms with colon cancer. It was such a blessing to really talk with people going though similar things: parenting while fighting cancer, the struggles, the fears, the joys. This experience was so amazing I knew I had to attend the Survivor Conference held from June 9-13, 2016 in St. John’s, NL. We fundraised and were sponsored to be able to attend. YACC had our back again.
My husband, Harrison, and I were part of a group of 75 young adults who attended the four-day event. It was fantastic! It was a whirlwind of activities, workshops, presentations, food, and fun.
There were so many great workshops to choose from, including some for the supporters who attended and are also affected by cancer. Harrison attended “Caregivers: Because you need support, too” with Karine Chalifour, YACC’s program director. It gave him an opportunity to share his experiences with other caregivers/supporters who “got it,” to explore resources, and talk about how they can help take care of themselves while offering support to their loved one as they go through cancer.
He also participated in some other workshops, but I can’t speak for him, so I will tell you about my experiences. I chose my workshops to cover a nice balance of things: cognitive, emotional, physical, spiritual, and practical aspects.
On the cognitive front, I attended a very helpful workshop on cancer-related brain fog, “Removing the fog from brain fog” with Heather Palmer who has a Ph.D. in Neuropsychology. We explored our cognitive concerns and brainstormed tips on how to think and function with more clarity. It was also so great to know I am not the only person having this type of cognitive challenge, even months post chemotherapy. It is a real thing. I left this workshop with several tips in my toolbox and insight into how my brain works. And I felt less alone.
As you may have deduced from what I mentioned before, or from personal experience, cancer can also kick the crap out of you emotionally. I had also signed up for an anxiety workshop, “Anxiety: How to lean into it so it does not scare the s*** out of you” with Bonnie Lundrigan, a counsellor from the Wellness Centre in St. John’s. Bonnie helped us explore anxiety from a “brain perspective” and offered tips on how to recognize how it surfaces in our lives on a personal level.
One of my favourite workshops focused on the body and mind connection, “Nia: Moving to heal” with Kathleen Naylor, a counsellor in student services and a Nia practitioner and teacher. We spent an hour moving and exploring body movement while listening to a great playlist of different music (like intuitive and gentle dancing and stretching) and spending some time on personal reflection and the connection of mind/body/spirit. I felt free and energized after Kathleen’s workshop and my body felt alive. Nia is something I will definitely do again!
Kathleen also facilitated the workshop on career crafting where we explored strategies to find happiness in our careers and ways to create or find a career that will meet these needs. We also talked about workplace wellness and ways to ensure we remember to practice self-care and stay open to possibilities in the work force to best meet our needs both physical and emotionally.
There were presentations where people shared their cancer stories and we learned more about YACC, there was an evening of comedic relief, each day started with a silly contest (I have to say that the dance contest was my favourite, even though I lost), and we also explored ways we can help give back to this wonderful community. Oh wait, did I mention the totally fun ‘80s dance party that ended the conference? It may have involved guyliner, lots of hairspray, and a whole bunch of dancing.
YACC also treated us to some sightseeing. We visited Cape Spear, saw an iceberg, and climbed Signal Hill. There was also free time where people hung out, played games, had a pool party, and just relaxed. On top of that, I got “Screeched in” with Harrison, we rented a car and drove the coast and hiked up to a lighthouse, enjoyed breakfast at a local spot with some amazing friends, hunted for local gifts and crafts to bring home, got special tattoos, watched crashing waves, found a surprise iceberg on our own, and breathed in ocean air. I felt more grounded and happy than I have in a really long time. I also got to spend some time with my husband away from our hectic routine at home. We were able to reconnect and enjoy laughter and just “be.”
I feel SO strongly about my experiences at both the retreat and the conference that I wish I could shout it from the rooftops, but I am afraid of heights so this blog post will have to do the job instead. In all seriousness, it will take more than this one blog post to even scratch the surface of all the amazing reasons why you need to check YACC out.
YACC offers support on so many levels.
YACC has had my back since the day I got involved.
YACC has connected me with resources and support networks I may not have discovered on my own.
YACC has introduced me to some of the most amazing friends I have ever met.
YACC will also support YOU no matter what type of cancer or what stage you’re in.
I have met so many absolutely fantastic people who are also young adults just like me who can really understand my experience. That network makes me feel less alone, supported, and appreciated.
If you are a young person here in Canada between the ages of 18-39 who is living with cancer, or, know a young adult who is, please connect with YACC. You won’t regret it. You are not alone.