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Five Takeaways from YSC Summit 2017

Filled with nervous excitement, I attended my first breast cancer summit this last weekend.  The Young Survival Coalition Summit was filled with informative sessions, educated speakers, as well as a hall full of vendors and organizations educating the attendees on their various agendas.  I bought shirts and learned I was using the worst possible beauty products.  I was able to feel as though I was really connected to some of the messages these organizations were trying to get out.  And it was great.  The YSC did a fantastic job of hosting and organizing this event.  But you know what was the best?  The WOMEN.  All of us coming together in friendship and understanding.

It was magic.

For the first time in nearly eight years, I was with people who got it.  I love my friends and family.  I love them dearly, but there is no way for anyone to fully understand what it is like living with cancer if they have never experienced it themselves.  I talked and shared things this weekend that were understood on a level I’ve never felt before.  For all of the ugliness we live with, it was beautiful.  We were euphoric.

If you are considering attending a YSC sponsored event check out their schedule of events here!

1
Social Media Is A Lifesaver

Sure, we all seem like we are on our phones, computers, tablets, entirely too much.  Personally, I would say 75% of that time, for me, is communicating with friends I’ve made through online support groups.  Facebook, in addition to keeping you abreast of your cousin’s neighbor’s cat’s oldest child’s accomplishments, provides an invaluable outlet for us to connect with those who are struggling to live every day with the issues cancer patients currently face.  Three decades ago, we may have had medically organized groups available to some of us, but overall most cancer patients have an overwhelming feeling of isolation.   These groups bring us together, allow us to become familiar with each other, and ask those tough or embarrassing questions we may not know how to ask anyone else.  And getting to meet them at this summit? It is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.  “Online friends” turn into true friendships.

Which brings me to number 2...

2
You Do Not Have To Like Everyone

Just because we are all going through similar struggles with our health does not mean we will like or get along with each other.  I know I am outspoken, brash, have no filter, and can have a sarcastic cancer humor at times (okay, most of the time).  I laugh too loud (I mean, is there really such a thing?) and sometimes drink too much wine.  Not everyone is going to like me or want to be my friend (totally your loss, by the way).  Humans tend to connect with other people based on various issues and having cancer can be one of the them.  It can also have nothing to do with it.  What is not okay, is to not respect each other.  I met a number of women over the weekend who were early stagers or had never had breast cancer but lost a loved one to it.  Caregivers, sisters, mothers, and fathers.  The level of support at this summit was overwhelming.  It was beautiful.  But there were also obvious clashes and disagreements.

Which leads me to number 3…

3
Cancer Is Not A Competition

I don’t care if you are Stage IV (such as myself) or have had the tiniest fleck of it decades ago and have been in remission ever since.  Cancer changes you.  It changes everything about you from your physical appearance to your mental wellbeing.  Cancer is hard for everyone it touches.  To sit and say yours is worse than mine or mine is worse than yours is awful and moronic.  There is no trophy, no winners.  I was surprised by how many conversations that led to comparison instead of commonality.  At times, it felt that some people felt the need to make their situations sound worse than everyone else in the room.  I understand that some people seek attention.  That is a separate situation in its entirety.  It was also palpable when someone was genuinely raw with the group.  A particular woman stands out to me.  She was very young, early stage, and completing her first round of treatment.  She asked me, how do you do it?  How do you go on and live your life?  My reply is that you still live your life.  And you live it with the appreciation of someone who has stared their mortality in the face and come through fire.  We all have struggles in our lives and just because ours is cancer, doesn’t make it worse than anyone else’s struggle to them.  Appreciate your life and be kind.

Which steers me to my next takeaway...

4
Laugh At Yourself & Your Situation

My favorite session of the weekend was one on Cancer and the Single Ladies.  Instead of having a formal agenda, the speaker asked us for a lot of our personal stories to share with the group.  So many women voiced their fear of dating after cancer, their insecurities with their appearance, and my favorite, their sex life or lack thereof.  Oh, how we laughed.  We shared stories and offered suggestions or remedies for physical issues that comes with menopause, chemical or natural.  For the most part, we all agreed that coconut oil really is a miracle cure.  Hot flashes really are the instrument of the devil.  And dating is tough, but not one person in that room could say they had a relationship fail due to their health status.  Fear of disclosing our reconstructed or altered bodies was a recurring issue.  At one point a young girl who had just recently undergone a mastectomy asked about reconstruction.  We talked about how terrifying it is to share your body with a potential partner and when to open up about our situation, past or present.  We talked nipples and after the session ended, she asked to see mine.  So yes, I bared my frankenboobs to a room full of strangers…or sisters.

And lastly…

5
We Really Are A Sisterhood

I was worried that because of the false sense of familiarity we get from online friendships, that it would be awkward to meet everyone in person.  It was not awkward at all…It was amazing.  There was a such a beautiful grace in getting to embrace my friends.  We were all so open and shared our feelings and history with one another.  There was an overall sense of camaraderie with everyone in attendance.  It is not exaggerating to say that I have never experienced anything like it before.  As cancer patients we see a lot of pain in the world.  It helps us to appreciate the beauty in the good moments as they can feel infrequent.  This coming together of cancer patients, lifers, thrivers, and my least favorite word, survivors, may not seem like a party to those who have never been in our shoes.  Hell, I had my doubts about what to expect as well!  Prior to attending, I had in my mind a hotel filled with crying women talking about dying.  And there were tears, fears, and the hard reality, however if there is one word I can use to sum up this gathering, it would be JOY.  We found and celebrated our joys not only in life, but also in our sisterhood and our togetherness.   We told each other we loved each other and meant it.  We also know that it may be the last time we see each other…alive.  That is the reality.  It is with that spirit we also made future, hopeful plans together.

I cannot wait for next year…

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  • April Doyle is a MBC patient with a big mouth and passion for writing. She has been living with stage IV metastasis to bones for the last two years and continues to work when not running after her five year old son. She has a BA in English Literature from CSU Fresno and she’s not afraid to use it.

  • Show Comments (1)

  • Stephanie Guerra

    I love reading my daughter’s writings. This helps me to know her trials even better than a sit down chat. April is very open, honest, and speaks from her heart and her head. She does laugh loud, and it’s one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard.

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