What Survivor Conference means to me

What Survivor Conference means to me

By Andrea Whittle

After every YACC event — like the conference or a retreat — I write down in a journal how I felt, the workshops I attended, and the information I gained from them. I am currently working on my second journal. When I feel like life is becoming too stressful or I’m in on emotional Slip N Slide, I take out my YACC journal and I start re-reading it, get inspired again, and feel mentally powerful again to tackle my issues related to cancer and my journey after. I feel that bond I made with my fellow YACCers.

My blog this time is the excerpt from Survivor Conference 2020: Virtual.

May 25, 2020

This has been quite the year so far. It started off with a bang! Set with great intentions. I am mentally clearer, physically powerful, and emotionally balancing.

I am learning to accept myself and the new limitations I have in life after cancer.

It has been a very long road but I am proud to say I am BETTER.

I still have days where I regress into depression, sadness, grief, and fear of recurrence, but those days and thoughts are a lot less and shorter lived.

I have come to recognize, accept, and let go of those emotions. It’s okay, to not be okay sometimes. I am becoming calmer and living in the present.

What got me to this place is YACC. Truly if it wasn’t for them, I would have never gotten the tools, support, acceptance for surviving after my cancer diagnosis. If it wasn’t for my first Survivor Conference in 2018, I probably wouldn’t have started to see my now councillor Ian from CancerCare Manitoba. I will forever be grateful for them.

I write these journals with all the knowledge I learn from YACC. I hope that one day my words can help someone get to the place of peace with their cancer, and the life they live now after.

This year’s Survivor Conference was to be here in Winnipeg, but due to COVID-19 that conference is postponed.

Last weekend, YACC held — for its first time ever — a virtual Survivor Conference from the comfort of our own living rooms, bedroom, kitchen, back/front yards, just not in the bathroom! (Thank you, Kathy Stock, for the hilarious tutorials on how to properly attend a Zoom conference!)

The conference ran from Friday evening to Sunday night. We had speakers talk to us about writing, meditation, self-compassion, nutrition, mindful movement, Yoga, finances, Nia, and sex. There was a YAC Prime panel and a YACC remembers ceremony.

I was a part of the social committee, and I hosted two paint nights throughout the weekend. We also did Netflix parties, games, trivia, and held “shoot the shit” Zoom rooms.

It was all a success! There were over 300 participants registered! This was THE BIGGEST conference in YACC history!

Even though we are miles apart we all managed to connect on that amazing level that YACC always brings us to! So much love was felt through the screens and ear plugs!

Every conference I attend, I overcome my fears of social gatherings more and more.

During my first conference in 2018, my goals were to travel alone, though I didn’t feel alone once I made it to my loading zone at the airport because I was greeted by my — at the time — Localife co-leader, Allison. She was also my roommate which made conference much easier because I had a buddy to walk into the rooms with. I mentally was on a fast track to severe depression, which followed suicidal thoughts because of the stress and uncontrollable life losses I was experiencing.

At the Sunday dinner when I sat next to my now councillor, Ian. He asked, “how are you doing?” and I broke down into inconsolable tears. I couldn’t talk. Once I was able to look him in the eye, I simply said “I need to see you when we get back home.” (Ian was a speaker that weekend at the conference). After this conference I attended Retreat Yourself in December 2018. Another pivotal moment in my recovery happened that this event.

During my second conference in 2019, my goal was to get over the fear of walking into the main conference room solo to get a coffee or food and finding a table to sit at. That was THE BIGGEST anxiety I ever had with YACC, and I overcame it! I did it! And nothing terrible happened! Lol

I sat down to a smiling, greeting, accepting, and humorous group of people who took all my fears away and welcomed me to the table.

This year’s goal was to successfully share my screen without my computer crashing! What a difference in goal from last year! But none the less still stressful! Lol

The most powerful moment was once the conference started and Karine started talking. I swear I thought she was talking to my inner soul! She was saying how she “felt out of her shoes” with all this technology, Zoom, screen sharing, etc. Karine reminded me that shit happens, and you can’t help that. We are a kind, loving, and supportive community, and we got each other’s backs! Fuck! I got choked up, yet felt a wave of calm wash over me.

Fifteen minutes before my paint night began, I had my already new internet modem swapped out for another new one and it worked! My paint nights were a success, as was the rest of the weekend.

I learned great longterm skills from the workshops. I made connections with new people who I now call friends, and re-kindled old connections from previous conferences and retreats.

I feel full inside with love and acceptance. Survivor Conference helps me grow as a cancer survivor, woman, mother, and friend. It teaches me compassion for myself and for others, and to accept myself, forgive myself, and let go of what doesn’t serve me well in life.

Thank you, YACC. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t ever be able to say I am grateful for having cancer, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t ever know how amazing life truly can be.

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