By Charlene

I remember how it felt to hear those three words no one wants to hear. The day has played over and over in my mind for the past six-and-a-half years. It’s like a broken CD that just keeps playing the same words over and over again. I wish that day never happened. No matter how hard I wish, it will never go away. The three words I’m talking about are “You have cancer.”

At the moment those words reached my ears, my life was changed forever. Those words threw my life into a tornado with many twists and turns. I was just learning how to navigate life as an adult. I had so many dreams and adventures that I wanted to go on. I had spent the past few years dealing with mental health challenges and had finally felt that I was at a place where I could move forward.

A big part that I struggle with is the isolation that I feel. I’m the only one in my group of friends who is dealing with cancer. I had some friends who tried to support me the best they could, but I also lost a few friends. No one understood what I was going through and how hard it was to be faced with a life-threatening illness just when my life was starting. I felt like I was no longer connected with my friends. Our paths were so different now. They were making plans and fulfilling their dreams and I was learning to navigate my way through our healthcare system in a way I never did before while fighting for my life.

I’m the youngest person in the waiting room when waiting to see my oncologist. I went to support groups a few times and felt even more isolated because the members were a lot older and at a different stages of life than I was. Another layer of isolation was that no one looked like me. All the pamphlets and information I was given with pictures were of white people. I wondered about where I fit in and where I belonged. It was a very lonely feeling and I was desperate to find people who got it and understood. That’s when I came across Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC).

I noticed YACC was hosting a Retreat Yourself in British Columbia and I registered immediately. The best part was that it would be with people my own age. Cancer is different when you are a young adult, and I was hoping I would finally find the support I needed.

After finding out my spot was confirmed and I would be going to the retreat, I began to feel extremely nervous about it. My anxiety got even worse as the time got closer and closer.

I have always had issues with feeling like I don’t belong and fit in. I grew up feeling like an outcast who didn’t belong in this world. I wondered if everyone would like me and if I would fit in. I was desperate for people to understand what I was going through, but at the same time, worried that I was way too shy to be doing this. Social situations are hard for me.

Not only was I worried about fitting in and making connections, but this was the first time I was flying by myself. This also brought a lot of anxiety. I wondered if I made the right decision to fly halfway across the country to meet strangers. I thought about canceling, but there was something inside me telling me not to think that, this was something I needed to do. So, I trusted that voice and went to the retreat.

The first two days were really hard. To be honest, I wanted to leave and go home. I felt extremely out of my comfort zone and like I wasn’t making the support and connections I badly needed, but with the help of the staff and me not putting so much pressure on myself to be someone I’m not, that all changed.

Over the next few days at the retreat, I was able to open up and share. I began making the connections that I so badly wanted and was starting to feel like I belonged. I got to know the other people and they got to know me. I was accepted for who I am and it didn’t matter that I was shy and quiet.

It’s amazing how in a short four days I went from feeling awkward and shy to feeling connected and cared for. In the beginning we were strangers, and by the end they were family to me. When it came time to leave, I didn’t want to go home. That’s how loved and connected I felt.

There is something special about being around people your own age who get what you are going through. For the first time I didn’t have to sit there and explain anything they just understood. Being able to tell my story and hear other stories really helped me. I felt less alone. Retreat Yourself gave me strength and hope to keep going. There were a lot of tears that weekend but there was also laughter, love, and connection. The retreat was exactly what I needed.

The connections I made at that retreat and other YACC events is something that I hold near and dear to my heart. These connections have gotten me through a lot of difficult times and have helped me grow into the person I’m becoming. These connections help me to continue to grow and reach out of my comfort zone. I love the amazing adventures I have been on with YACCers.

When I found YACC, I felt connected and like I matter. I started to believe in myself. I had finally found my home.

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