By Andrea Whittle
Before meeting Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC), I felt lost and alone in my cancer journey. I didn’t know any other young adults who had cancer. I joined a few groups CancerCare Manitoba offered to connect and gain skills to cope after diagnosis, but I just never fit in. All the people were well into their retirement or about to retire, there was no real connection to me, most of the ladies had a lot of pity for me as I was “so young” to have cancer. It was a very awkward experience, but one day at an art group, I was handed a flyer for a YACC event called the Big Cancer Hook-up being held here at CancerCare Manitoba only for young adults between the ages 18-39, AND you could bring a friend with you! I thought, “WOW! This is for me!”
I mustered up the courage and was able to get a friend to come with me to the event. Little did I know, this was going to be the first day of the rest of my life. I would finally be connected to people my own age who understand my worries and fears of the uncertainty that my life now is.
“Little did I know, this was going to be the first day
of the rest of my life.”
I’ve been a YACCer now for three and a half years. I have attended four Big Cancer Hook-ups — hosting three of them — been a Localife Winnipeg leader since 2018, attended Retreat Yourself and three Survivor Conferences, and been a YACCtivist since fall 2019.
YACC has helped me conquer depression, anxiety, fears, and taught me through workshops how to cope as a young adult with life after a cancer diagnosis. One of the most important things YACC talks about is the power of connection and how important it is to recovering.
Through attending YACC events, I have met THE greatest and most inspirational people. The bond with them is incredibly powerful. That feeling of relief that washes over you when you find someone who truly gets it is indescribable. They get exactly how you feel, whether they’ve had the same (or similar) surgeries, diagnosis, chemo, radiation, chronic body pain, brain fog, side effects, permanent disabilities, fears, anxieties, self-esteem issues, loneliness, isolation, etc.
You make connections with people from all across this beautiful country. No matter the distance between us, we can still maintain those connections. The longer you are apart of YACC, the more friends you make and the deeper the bonds get.
The hardest part of YACC is the fact that what bonds us is cancer, and that not all of us will be able to survive our diagnosis. It’s a sobering reminder how cruel life can be.
I met my friend, Dylan, in 2018 at a monthly group meeting held for young adults in Manitoba. This was Dylan’s first time attending; he was feeling pretty down about his brain cancer and the prognosis that he had months left to live. Hearing him talk just broke my heart and I wanted desperately to help him and give him some sort of happiness to his life.
I had just returned from Retreat Yourself by YACC. I knew that this was where Dylan needed to go to find peace for himself. Dylan hesitated, and thought I was crazy for being so excited for him to attend a four-day “cancer camp,” but he did go to Retreat Yourself Ontario 2019.
When Dylan came back, he gave me the biggest hug and told me how right I was. It was like he was a new man! He had passion and excitement in his voice when he talked about his experience and the connections he made. He learned how to cope with his diagnosis and be an inspiration and supporter to everyone he met.
Our friendship grew as 2019 came and went, and Dylan outlived his doctor’s “expiry date.” The new year started off with a bang, and we were so excited to be the host city for Survivor Conference: 20/20, but then COVID-19 hit and all social gatherings and interactions where put on hold. Shortly after the world went into lockdown, Dylan got the news that his cancer had spread in his brain.
It was a punch in the gut. Dylan survived several months before losing his battle with cancer in July. The hardest part was that we couldn’t visit due to the pandemic. I never got to hug him, or hold his hand like I wanted to. I knew when I first met Dylan that this day was going to come, but never knew what the impact would be when it did happen.
I’ve lost a lot of people in my life due to cancer. It always stung and made me really sad, but I was always able to comfort, support, and uplift others. This time I needed the support and lifting up. I felt like running away from the YACC community; I didn’t think I could handle another death. The longer I stayed connected the more connections passed away. I wanted to put my walls up again and white-knuckle life alone because the thought of losing other friends was too devastating.
As time went on and Dylan’s celebration of life was fast approaching, I wanted to share our story and the impact he made on my life and hundreds of YACCers lives he touched. I wasn’t sure if I would be strong enough to say my speech, but at the celebration a group of local YACCers were there, and they asked if they could come up and stand behind me in support while I gave my speech.
It was that moment when I realized there’s no way I could turn my back on the greatest organization and the people whom I’ve grown so close with. The best part about YACC is the power of connection and unconditional support and acceptance. When I was ever at my lowest moments of life, YACC has always found a way to lift me up and give me hope.
The worst part of YACC is when we lose our friends, but the best part of YACC is they always got your back.
To all my peers who’ve never been to a YACC event, please find the courage to attend. I promise you, after you’re told “you have cancer,” it’s going to be the best thing you could ever voluntarily do for your own happiness.