Every year, I go to a weekend conference that celebrates young adult cancer survivors and it is energizing to be around those who get it.
Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
I spent this past weekend with 600 other women who “get it.” These are the people that don’t tell you to stop worrying or move on. These are the people that don’t tell you that you don’t look sick. These are the ones that don’t tell you that you will be fine.
I spent the weekend in Oakland, California at the annual Young Survival Coalition Summit. YSC hosts this summit every year. It’s a chance for young adult survivors of breast cancer to meet up, share stories, hear the latest in treatment options and go to small group sessions that fit their individual interests. I go to this summit every year; I am almost seven years out from diagnosis and don’t always feel like I need to hear about treatment options, how to get through chemo or what surgery to pick. I go to this annual meeting of survivors, friends and family because I just like to be around people who understand me. It is so helpful to be around people who have walked in my shoes and I like to think that maybe I can help those who are walking down a path filled with steps I have already taken.
But sometimes being around other survivors can be a challenge. I can be triggered by other people’s stories. In some cases, hearing someone tell the story of their diagnosis brings right back to the day of mine. I don’t always love going back to the past and reminiscing about my tumor that started me on this journey. However, just being among those other women who know what it is like to be in fear of not living to see their children grow up, not having the chance to even have children, just hoping to make it to 40 years old, or wondering if they will ever date again, makes me feel safe. I have mixed emotions every year I attend. On one hand, I am always so grateful that all of us have found each other and can go to a place that is open for us to just be us: to complain about aches and pains, our issues with our emotions, frustrations with people who tell us to get over it and move forward, and console each other regarding our fears.
On the other hand, and this terrifies me and saddens me, there are so many of us. Every year the group gets a little bigger. It’s a reminder that cancer is that horrible pest that won’t go away. It’s a reminder to continue to push for new treatments and science to find that cure we are all waiting to find. I hate the fact that every year some of us don’t make it back to the Summit to enjoy each other’s company again. I look forward to the opportunity to make it to the Summit again next year and see my friends. I look forward to seeing those that were bald this year coming back with a full head of hair. I look forward to being another year out from my diagnosis and celebrating those who are celebrating the same.
One of the best treatments for surviving cancer is simply being around that group that gets it – the ones that you don’t have to explain why are scared, sad, lonely and happy all at once. This group is my safe place and the place I call home.