I spent the past 4 days at the Radisson hotel in Toronto, attending the Young Adult Cancer Canada Survivor Conference (YACC SC2012).
By: Robin Harry
Through chaos as it swirls,
It’s us against the world”
Coldplay – Us Against The World
I spent the past 4 days at the Radisson hotel in Toronto, attending the Young Adult Cancer Canada Survivor Conference (YACC SC2012). There were around 90 of us survivors and supporters, all in different stages of our cancer-touched lives, in a little bubble where cancer was normal and everything else wasn’t, where we all understood what each other was going through. Like the July retreat, The conference was one of the most enlightening and satisfying four days I’ve ever had, in so many ways. I seriously think I’m going to be a YACC groupie for life!
A major part of the survivor conference is to provide educational workshops and resources for young adults who are facing/have faced cancer. I learned strategies on how to deal with my ever-present brain fog, we got resources and advice on how to deal with cancer-related depression and anxiety, self-image and sexuality, and we were challenged and offered different perspectives on how to view our changing social networks post-cancer. There was a really informative session on financial planning, life insurance and health insurance after cancer; it made me aware of a lot of issues that I honestly never had to think about because of my insurance coverage at work. It was all incredibly eye-opening.
The conference also serves to connect us all through our stories. One of the most powerful moments was the story shared by a young man, Frederic, about his time as a caregiver to his wife, who was a young adult with a brain tumour. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. His story of his love and care for her was overwhelming, and it reminded us – reminded me – of how hard cancer can be on the loved ones of someone with cancer. We also heard from three survivors, Tim, Dawn and Colin, who told their stories of how they’ve lived their lives after having cancer, between diagnoses, through the fear of recurrence, overcoming obstacles. I was so inspired by them all, and so incredibly humbled to know them.
We also did the 7K for 7K walk; we walk 7 kilometres in solidarity with the 7000 young adults diagnosed every year in Canada, and had a ceremony in remembrance of those who died. That was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever been a part of. It was unifying and scary all at the same time. On the one hand, getting to know all these people and care about them is petrifying, because every friend we make through cancer comes with a chance of losing a friend. Somehow, though, caring about each other through that fear makes the connection stronger and more meaningful. And it’s a comfort to know that somehow, we all have each other’s back. We are a community that knows pain and hard times, but at the same time, we were a force to be reckoned with.
The best part of the conference, for me, was connecting us all to each other. Survivors came from all over the country, east coast to the west coast. I got to reunite with many of the fantastic friends that I made at the retreat in July, and I made some incredible new friends. Good grief, these people are amazing. We played games, we danced, we stalked “secret friends” assigned to us, we sang karaoke, we made fun of each other, we made cancer jokes. It was wonderful.
It was hard leaving that little protective bubble at the end of the conference. However, as hard as it was to leave, I know that every encounter with all these wonderful people, through Young Adult Cancer Canada, makes my life richer and somehow makes me just a little better of a person. Someone said at conference, “Cancer is the fast track to authenticity.” All these people, all these folks that I’ve grown to care so much about – they help me get to authenticity just a little faster. And I love being a part of the big jigsaw puzzle we make up.