At our monthly team meetings, one of our crew members discusses some of our five values: strength, courage, commitment, heart, and spark. This is Kathy’s reflection from this month’s meeting.
I’ve been asked to speak about one of YACC’s core values, but given my unique position, I don’t think it’s fair to ask me to talk about just one. As a young adult cancer survivor, alumna of YACC’s programs, intermittent member of YACC’s staff, supporter to newly diagnosed young adults, and part-time Shave for the Brave hair stylist, I feel it is only fair for me to be able to choose one value for each of these five points-of-view.
Let’s start with hair stylist: There is nothing quite like the spark in someone’s eyes when they take part in a Shave for the Brave. When people are given the tools and the means to take part in something so much bigger than themselves, they come alive. Giving back ignites a spark in the lives of both the person giving and the person receiving. Whether someone is signing up to Shave, organizing the event, or volunteering to Shave heads, the spark created by their efforts ignites a flame that burns brightly and changes everything in its path. Like Rachel Platten says in “Fight Song,” “I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion.”
As a supporter, I’ve been able to witness commitment in an entirely new way. People often write me when their friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer and ask what they should do or what they should say. My advice is always to stay committed long after the diagnosis is made. YACC understands this concept so well, which is evident in the mantra “Every cancer, every stage, YACC’s got your back.”
The word “stage” here doesn’t necessarily pertain to the diagnostic stage of cancer growth. Instead it means that YACC is there for cancer survivors whether they are living with cancer, actively fighting cancer, or trying to adjust to life long after cancer is gone. This commitment to people, the promise to be there during the months and years after cancer has come and gone, is the best way to support a cancer survivor. YACC has shown me, by example, how to be the best supporter I can be.
As an intermittent staff member, I have gotten to see the heart that pumps the love into YACC from the inside. I have seen Lesley literally wait tables at Survivor Conference to ensure people are fed on time and that specific nutritional needs are met, all the while making everyone around her feel comfortable and cared for. Geoff, almost twenty years after starting YACC, is more passionate about helping survivors than ever and is still visibly moved on a regular basis when people Shave for the Brave and support the cause. Brittany is the energizer bunny of fund development and goes above and beyond to bring excellence to everything she does. Dawn’s love for YACC is undeniable and her heart beat for the mission has been strong enough to power her through fears of public speaking, even motivating her to shave her own head. Karine’s love for survivors and YACC and life in general leaves anyone who is lucky enough to be around her better than they were before they experienced her light. Angie’s heart for YACC is evident whenever she has the chance to answer the question, “So, what do you do?” From the precision of her work, to the community connections she fosters to the happy and sad tears she cries when we mourn and celebrate, Angie’s heart for others is undeniable and it fuels her work.
As an alumni of the YACC programs, I have witnessed the courage of YACC in everyone I’ve met. The courage to show up, to travel long distances and sit in a room full of strangers with the hope that the experience will be worth it is an incredible kind of courage to witness. The depth of vulnerability that happens in the circle at a retreat is healing and transformative. The courage to tackle Gros Morne at Retreat Yourself Adventure, the courage to share a piece of your story with another person, the courage to hold space while someone shares their story with you, this is the kind of courage that makes YACC such a powerhouse.
Finally, as a young adult cancer survivor, I have an entirely new definition of the word strength. When people would comment on my strength during my season with cancer, I would find myself annoyed because this wasn’t a path I would have chosen for myself. The strength they saw in me was unwelcomingly forced into my life.
When I was mid-way through cancer treatment, I met Geoff and when we sat together; it was the first time since my diagnosis that I talked to another young adult cancer survivor. He told me about YACC, and even though I wasn’t convinced that I needed it (spoiler alert, I very much ended up needing it), I was inspired by what Geoff did with the unwelcomed strength that his cancer diagnosis brought to his life. He embodied that untimely gift of strength and used it as a means to bring purpose to his disease. His example of taking what was meant to harm him and recycling it into something that helps others allowed me to view my strength and my potential in an entirely new way.
I’m forever grateful to YACC for giving me a new definition of the word strength and for allowing their strength to strengthen the lives of young adult cancer survivors, all across the country. Survivors like me.
Well-known author and social sciences researcher Brene Brown has a book entitled The Gifts of Imperfection, and one of the gifts she mentions is “connection.” Cancer was an imperfect part of my young adulthood, something I would not have chosen, but the spark, commitment, heart, courage, and strength I have seen in YACC have made me a better version of myself. Connecting to this community has been one the greatest gifts of imperfection I have ever received, and for that I am eternally grateful.