It’s always an occasion when hundreds of breast cancer survivors and care partners come together for a conference and this year’s Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer [C4YW] was certainly no exception.
First, let me say that you shouldn’t let the “Young Women” fool you… women of all ages made the journey to New Orleans on February 24th to share in the three days of education, enjoyment, networking and support. C4YW, presented every year by the Young Survival Coalition and Living Beyond Breast Cancer, is an event that some women look forward to all year long. They save up, raise funds, apply for travel grants and help their fellow survivors [at all levels of treatment] finance the trip. For many women, it is their only opportunity to travel throughout the year and it is the “vacation” that they look forward to.
Attendees were greeted in the registration area with the spirit of Mardi Gras that New Orleans is famous for! Bowls of colorful beads overflowed from oversized bowls that were much more than just decoration. Each had a special significance:
White: Diagnosis less than 1 year
Green: Diagnosis within 1-5 years
Orange: Diagnosis within 6-9 years
Pink: Diagnosis of 10 years, or more
Red: High Risk for Recurrence
Gold: Care Partners
Purple: Metastatic Disease
Blue: Healthcare Providers
The beads immediately opened doors for conversations, head nodding, thumbs-up and full-blown body hugs. They became much more than an accoutrement celebrating our time together in NOLA, but a road map of our common and varied journeys.
Adjacent to the Registration and Discussion Areas (marked with note card where folks could connect – from “long-term survivors,” to the “newly diagnosed] the exhibit hall was buzzing with sound and energy. Numerous amazing organizations were in attendance to connect, educate, empower and share support, information and SWAG. LiveSTRONG, National Breast Cancer Coalition, Pink Link, Stupid Cancer, Pink Fund, Keep Abreast, Caring Bridge, and many more were on the scene. Throughout the weekend, Dusty Showers walked the exhibit hall and spent time hugging survivors, answering questions and [of course] getting his photo taken!
As a representatives of mAss Kickers Foundation, I had the delightful opportunity to interview conference attendees. My fellow mAss Kickers [Gayle ‘Skip’ Wismar & Cindy ‘Scoop’ Gomez Sanchez] and I perused the area just outside the conference and talked with many amazing women about what brought them to the conference and what they were hoping to get out of their time at C4YW. Many were there because the continuing education and opportunity to share time with fellow survivors each year was life-altering. A number of newly diagnosed women shared their desire to learn about the path that other women had traveled and to create support networks. Exhibitors shared their passion for making a difference in the cancer community as well as sharing their personal stories of cancer. All were moving and poignant in their own way. We laughed. We cried. We hugged. We went to sessions…
The workshop and plenary offerings at C4YW were varied as to meet the needs of as many women and care partners as possible and to help attendees to address their own unique challenges faced as a young woman affected by breast cancer. Topics which are often ‘under-addressed’ such as “Lesbian Women: Communicating With Partners,” and “Reclaiming Your Sexual Mind & Body” were incredibly well attended, facilitated and received by engaged audiences. Both sessions were amazing.
Conference participants had a variety of workshops to choose from over the course of the weekend. Topics included meditation, social media, reconstruction options, genetics and family risk, various medical updates, lymphedema, communicating, end of life issues, and many more including special workshops for caregivers. Plenary sessions brought conference participants together to hear speakers on healthy living, intimacy, and a panel of patients and medical oncologists. A welcome reception on Friday evening brought everyone to the exhibit hall to browse and enjoy snacks. Afterward options included yoga and belly dancing not to mention amazing local food, historic sites and more zydeco, jazz, and southern hospitality than you can shake a stick at!
As always, the “Memory Wall” shared photos of those who have died and whom we carry with us in spirit… Rachel Cheetham Moro, Susan Niebur, Jolene Von Millanich, Stacy Tanchum, Olivia Coia, Keely Culter, Lynda Swaim, Katy Murphy Rees, Angela Martinez Medina, Pete Sudol, and so many others.
The wall serves as yet another tangible reminder of the work that we have ahead of us. To educate, advocate, and to fill the resource gaps for people living with a cancer diagnosis. To make a conference like this obsolete. To end breast cancer.
For those of you who were in attendance… take what you learned. Continue to make change in your daily life whether through active advocacy of calling legislators to discuss policies that affect the cancer community, or by ‘voting with your dollars’ and purchasing products free from estrogen-distruptors. It is easy to walk away from a conference of the magnitude of C4YW feeling like you want to bust the gate down and change the world… it can be just as easy to feel completely and utterly paralyzed by the about of information you’ve received, overwhelmed by emotions, and exhausted. Breathe deeply. Take a moment to reflect on what you learned, saw, shared, experienced and process. Choose your next step from that place.
If you weren’t able to be with us in person… YES! You WERE missed! Check the conference website for audio-recorded sessions on Young Survival Coalition’s website: http://www.youngsurvival.org/programs/connect/annual-conference/
Each day of the conference was a gift. I am especially grateful to Eric Galvez at mAss Kickers Foundation for affording me the opportunity to attend on the foundation’s behalf as a representative of mAss Kickers. Much love, and many thanks to Gayle Wismar & Cindy Gomez Sanchez “mAss Kicker Babes” extraordinaire.
Interested in checking out next year's C4YW? (You SHOULD be!] Mark your calendar for February 22-24, 2013, and plan to head west to the Hyatt Regency Bellevue on Seattle's Eastside.
Special thanks to Mara Gorden & Dusty Showers of the 2nd Basemen. In addition to your open hearts, welcoming presence, & humor… I share my appreciation for the wonderful women that you brought to C4YW on travel scholarships. You afforded us the opportunity to meet them and for them to have an incredible experience.
Warm [and continual] thanks for the powerful work they do within the cancer community and beyond: Matthew Zachary, Kenny Kane, Joy Simha, Mara Gorden, Dusty Showers, Vicki Channing Tashman, Amanda Nixon, Stephanie Ritter and too many others to name. Thank you.
Lead Sponsor: Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Sponsors: Avon Foundation for Women, Eisai, Genentech, Amgen, Breast Cancer Wellness, Celegene, Oakley, Center for Restorative Breast Surgery, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Genomic Health, Krewe of Muses, Lilly, LiveSTRONG, Lymphedivas, Myriad, Lockheed Martin Employee’s Foundation, Mentor, Paula A. Seidman Fund, Randi Rosenberg Memorial Fund, Veridex, & BJNB Foundation.
A little background on C4YW:
This conference is specifically designed for:
Young women affected by breast cancer
Long-term breast cancer survivors diagnosed before age 45
Caregivers, including partners, family and friends
Young women with a strong family history of breast cancer
This conference also brings awareness and invaluable information to the medical professionals fighting breast cancer, including:
Social workers, psychologists and psychosocial-oncology specialists
Oncology nurses and nurse practitioners
Breast cancer patient support organizations and advocates
Medical and radiation oncologists
Breast surgeons and reconstruction specialists
Reproductive endocrinologists and fertility specialists
Genetic counselors and geneticists
Physical therapists and rehabilitation specialists
Gynecologists and women's health practitioners