Survivor Conference 2011 recap

November 15, 2011

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It has been one week since I returned home from the Survivor Conference 2011 in Ottawa. I’m still basking in the warmth of memories from the event and feeling immensely thankful to be a member of the YACC family. I have attended three Retreats and two Conferences since 2007 and am always amazed at the depth of connection that is able to happen in such a relatively short timeframe. I was a little nervous that we may lose some of that intimacy this year based on the significant jump in the number of attendants. However, I was delighted to see that we still functioned as a close-knit family–albeit a much larger family!

All weekend, I observed people opening themselves up and sharing stories and intimate details about their trials and triumphs with cancer. In closing circle, I heard 95 people describe what they were taking home from the Conference–strength, courage, connectedness, inspiration, and more.

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I saw the beginnings of new lifelong friendships and the strengthening of existing bonds. So even though it was impossible to get to know every single person within the four days, I was thankful that there were still pockets of the intimacy I value so much. It was also great to feel the buzz of energy that comes from having 80 young adult cancer survivors in one room. Very powerful!

When I came back to Nova Scotia, my friends and family asked me for some of the highlights from the Conference. To be honest, the question kind of stumped me because there were too many to choose from!

I loved walking into the main room for supper on Thursday and seeing everyone there chatting away like old friends. Roughly 50 per cent of the people in the room had never been to a YACC event, and I loved how quickly they just integrated into the group.

On Friday, I spent the afternoon doing video interviews with survivors and facilitators. I felt extremely privileged to hear their stories. I’m still struggling to process the intensity of emotions they stirred up in me, but ultimately these interviews filled me with inspiration and an appreciation for each moment we have on this earth.

These feelings were amplified after hearing Geoff’s story on Friday night. He said two things that really struck a chord with me:  1) One per cent is not zero per cent and 2) Statistics are historic, not a a forecast. Simple concepts that carry a world of hope.

On Saturday, the highlight for me was the walk to the Parliament Buildings. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. It was empowering to walk with such an incredible group of young adults. As cars drove by and honked, I wondered if they had a true sense of what they were seeing. Were we just a bunch of strangers in matching shirts walking for a random cause? Or were they able to see beyond the surface and appreciate the profoundness of what we represented–the battles we had won that enabled us to be there on that gorgeous sunny day, walking along the Canal? I was so proud of everyone for participating in the walk, especially those who were coping with fatigue and other physical challenges. Great work everyone!

On Sunday, the highlight was closing circle and the banquet at Johnny Farina’s. I had some great conversations over an excellent meal, and learned a new game called “Guess that body part” using a digital camera. I also had a blast dancing to ’80s hits; what a great note to end the conference on!

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Throughout the conference, I really treasured the time with my small group for check-ins and check-outs. Similar to doing the interviews, I felt like I was given a window into people’s lives and really gained an appreciation for the richness that comes from our diversity and complexities as individuals in addition to our shared experiences as young adult cancer survivors. I was really struck by the balance each person had learned to establish between being fragile and vulnerable, while at the same time being incredibly strong and courageous. I also loved watching the group members care for one another and felt thankful that despite the countless things cancer can take away from us, it is so often a catalyst for the most genuine human connections we’ll ever know.

Finally, the conference reaffirmed for me how much I love my colleagues at YACC–the St. John’s core staff members and the wonderful facilitators from across the country. I love working with people who are so passionate and dedicated to helping others. I definitely gained a new level of respect for the YACC team after seeing how much work happens behind the scenes to carry out these phenomenal events.

So until next time, I hope you all made a fairly smooth transition back into your lives post-Conference. I look forward to staying in touch through Facebook, Skype, email, or (when possible) hanging out in person! Big love to all of you!

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