CancerCon was an amazing experience. I’ve already showed you some of the great photos from the weekend…you can see the many many photos people posted to instagram here. Today we’re talking about the actual experience though. Anyone out there who went to the conference? Anyone out there who wants to go next year? Over 600 people were in attendance at the conference put on by StupidCancer, hundreds of them young adult cancer survivors just like me…just like you.
When I arrived to my first activity, the run/walk scheduled for Friday morning, I was nervous, toting my registration bag of swag, and feeling silly to be at a semi-professional event (since I was representing not only myself but Lacuna Loft) in multi-colored knee length tights and a running shirt. I stayed off to the side and just watched for a few minutes as groups of people, who seemed to have known each other for years, congregated and visited in the downstairs lobby of the hotel. Then, someone walked up and just started talking to me. He was friendly, but not so overly friendly that I immediately worried about what cult I was joining, and very welcoming. During the run/walk I was supposed to be having a walking meeting with someone so I kept an eye on her while I kept talking to my new friend. Once the group started making its way out the door, my walking-meeting partner yelled out for me, and I quickly joined her. From there started an epic couple of days. The first timer welcome and orientation involved a rock-paper-scissors tournament where, once you lost a round of the game you turned into a cheering section for the person you had just lost to. Eventually the whole room was divided into two, yelling and cheering masses, each supporting their own rock-paper-scissors champion. Over the course of the week, I kept running into people and saying, “oh yea, hey! I played you in rock-paper-scissors!”
The conference just kept getting better and more relevant to my life from there. Session after session seemed to be just what I wanted to hear about. From Navigating Intimate Relationships to Preventing and Managing Caregiver Burnout to What Cancer Stole From Me: Grieving and Loss to Living with Chronic/Metastatic/Advanced Cancer to Mindfulness Meditation 101 to Parenting with Cancer to Sexual Health to Fertility: Am I Fertile to Get Busy Sweating: The Role of Exercise During and After Treatment to Managing your Finances to Optimize Your Nutrition to When Did Cancer Turn Me Into A Control Freak and so much more! (Seriously…I got no where near listing all of the different options of sessions that were available!)
You know how sometimes you go to a conference or an event and the main speaker was just picked because they were glitzy or seemed cool on paper but in reality the talk they deliver is boring? Yea, me too. But that wasn’t the case at all, at CancerCon. There were always multiple options of which breakout session to attend at any one given time so I was never left feeling like I couldn’t find a talk that was relevant for my life. The keynote, the awards ceremony, the exhibitors, the concluding ceremonies, the activities…all totally awesome, relevant to my own cancer journey, and really interesting.
As the activities continued, I often felt my emotions bubbling just near the surface. In one of the many sessions, someone would ask a question that resonated so deeply with me that I felt the tears start immediately. (Note to self: next year, wear water proof makeup!) There were volunteers in every room with a microphone to help amplify people’s questions around the room as well as a box of tissues. There were boxes of tissues everywhere! In every session, I would sit in awe as someone else voiced a concern that I had also shared, but that had made me feel alone and isolated. Over and over again, these survivors all around me shared so many of the anxieties and fears that had made me feel so different and isolated from my peers. These other young adult survivors and I had so much in common. It made me realize that for everything that I have been through, my cares and concerns, while not “normal” for your run-of-the-mill, non-cancer-having young adult, are SO expected and normal for a young adult cancer survivor. The experience was powerfully validating. Much of the time I have felt anxious about something in my life and then have made it worse, almost obsessive, with my additional anxiety about the anxiety. Seeing all of these other survivors, battling many of the same things as I am, was an intense and awesome experience.
Throughout the conference, I would meet a small group of people, talk with them for a while, and then we would disband for one reason or another. Sometimes I would find some of those people again and sometimes I wouldn’t. Near the end, I kept going back to find the same two, awesome women 🙂 Every time though, I would sit down with a brand new group of people and we would hit it off, right from the start. We immediately had a million things in common and a lot of fun things to chat about. I learned that all of those people standing in groups who looked like they were friends for years were just like me…slowly finding new people to spend time with as the conference went by. Sometimes that meant we’d known each other before, and sometimes that meant that we’d have just met…but the camaraderie was always there and the connections were instantly made.
There were several fun attractions at the conference as well. The Aflac duck, actually named Aflac!, was there. While I didn’t hold him, I did get to pose next to him and take turns petting him.
We also went on a scavenger hunt around the hotel and downtown Denver. This escapade didn’t start until 9 pm, which is quite late for me especially when I’m already out of my comfort zone. Nonetheless, a few of us banded together and ran around downtown Denver getting everything on the list photographed and documented!
There were fun cardboard cut outs of the StupidCancer founders placed strategically around the hotel. They also had several selfie spots around the area! The whole hotel had projected StupidCancer logos and banners…the effect was a delightful level of fanfare.
There was a fun photo booth, and after several tries, I captured this beauty of a moment with a few, lovely ladies.
The CancerCon was a huge success in my books. I learned so much about myself and had many of my anxieties and concerns validated. I am already super excited for the OMG West, a smaller and free version of the conference occurring in Southern California in November. The dates for next CancerCon are in my calendar and another survivor and I have already talked about sharing a room when we fly back into Denver next year.
If you see a photo of yourself and you’d like it removed, email at firstname.lastname@example.org ! I asked many of you if it was ok to share photos here, on Lacuna Loft, but just in case!