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YACCtivist training 2019: Let’s give them something to talk about

By Dani Taylor

After months of planning, after over 30 incredible applicants each with unique talents and captivating stories of resilience, 15 YACCtivists touched down for a weekend at Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto from August 15-18 for a weekend we won’t forget.

The YACCtivist program was born out of the knowledge that the stories of young adult cancer just weren’t being heard, and we know when people meet young adults with cancer, when they hear their stories, they come to “get it.” What other way could we explain the lack of resources, the void of support, or the general ignorance about how different the needs are of young adult cancer patients?

Our newly-minted YACCtivists will help spread the word to make connections in places we couldn’t reach and amplify the voices of those diagnosed with a young adult cancer across this county.

We can’t wait to introduce you to them:
• Alex Mandarino, 25, of Brampton, ON
• Andrea Whittle, 34, of Winnipeg, MB
• Ashley Monine, 29, of Inuvik, NT
• Blair Richardson, 24, of Calgary, AB
• Gabrielle Fecteau, 29, of Ottawa, ON
• Janelle Lamontagne, 31, of Brandon, MB
• Jenn Mackenzie, 37, of Montreal, QC
• Jenn Ryan, 34, of Paradise, NL
• Keri Blackwell, 35, of Beaver Bank, NS
• Mandy Lamothe, 35, of Edmonton, AB
• Marley Cameron, 26, of Sudbury, ON
• Matt Ralph, 33, of St. John’s, NL
• Ryan Blenkiron, 35, of Fergus, ON
• Shana Couillard, 42, of Qualicum Beach, BC
• and me, Dani Taylor, 29, of Toronto, ON

Reflections on the weekend from the YACCtivists

The opening circle
We began the weekend with a sharing circle for all of our YACCtivists to share how they came to be with us. We shared stories of diagnosis, treatment, recurrence, finding community, times of isolation, and why we felt compelled to give back to the YACC community.

“I’ve never had the chance to tell my story in front of so many people let alone have them understand exactly what I was feeling. I felt so loved and supported and when we finished I knew I had some amazing new friends and supports.” – Blair

Writing through cancer with Sharon Bray
Each day opened with a writing workshop with Sharon Bray. YACCtivists were given the opportunity to write and share about big topics like the first time they heard they had cancer, fear, hope, and more. The therapeutic benefits were incredible and it really helped to show just how powerful sharing your story can be.

“Sharon was so refreshing and honest! I faced a lot of emotions that I hadn’t realized were being internalized through her workshops. She reminded me that my feelings and thoughts have value and that they are all a piece of my story.” – Marley

Power of the public narrative with Institute for Change Leaders
YACC alumnus Duncan Pike brought in the insight of the Institute for Change Leaders Insititute and powerful cofacilitators Amrit Parhar, Graeme Lamb, and Will Flores. we learned how to craft our stories for maximum impact in an interactive workshop, and left feeling inspired to start telling the world what we needed to build up Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC).

“Everyone has such an amazing story and because of this presentation, we can now tell our stories in the most powerful way possible to affect change.” – Janelle

Social media with the Institute for Change Leaders
The Institute for Change Leaders brought in the talented Adam Chaleff to our YACCtivists to teach them how to harness the power of social media. With tangible tools to build our network and build traction, Adam explained social media in a way that left the YACCtivists feeling empowered.

“Changed my view of the #. It lit a fire under my ass that I CAN do more than just posting.” – Andrea

Telling your story to medical professionals with Chris Graham
Chris Graham of TellPeople came with practical tools for communicating with medical professionals—a task that is so often proven challenging to us. He left us with skills to not only improve our relationships with their own healthcare teams, but also be able to involve them in our larger YACC goals.

“Chris is truly an incredible leader, and someone who held my attention for the entire session. The lesson itself appeared simple at first, but this hands down provided me with the most valuable advice of the weekend.” – Alex

Improv with Funnies for Families
Funnies for Families knocked it out of the park by bringing in powerhouse comedian Allana Reoch of Second City. Allana had all of our YACCtivists—even the improv skeptics—playing and having an amazing time. The improv workshop gave our participants a safe and fun environment to learn that sometimes things don’t always go as planned, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of thinking on their feet and making it work.

“This workshop not only brought incredible emotional joy to the day, I felt my physical self invigorated. It made perfect sense to do this type of training so we can apply the flexibility and confidence to all that we do as a YACCtivist.” – Ryan

Head shots with Turquoise Imagery
Tyra Sweet of Turquoise Imagery came to support our YACCtivists in their future endeavours by providing professional head shots for everyone. Head shots will be a tool for YACC web, engaging with media, and for professional purposes such as appearance in a speaker’s bio, etc. Tyra made something that often brings a lot of anxiety and nerves into a fun and natural experience. We can’t wait to see the finished results!

“She made it easy to be Ashley!” – Ashley

Media training with Blue Sky Communications
Our friend Julie McCarthy of Blue Sky Communications knocked it out of the park with a smart presentation about navigating the media. While many of our YACCtivists had experience with the press before, few had received the training and tools to make the most out of a media moment. Julie’s workshop has us itching to get our voice out there in a big way!

“Media can be tricky to navigate, and I appreciated all the nuances and tips made present through this workshop. It sparked so much debate, insight, and interest from all participants, and provided a great discussion!” – Alex

”My body, my story” art workshop with Natalie Very B
The final workshop was a powerful session with Natalie Very B which connected the YACCtivists back to their bodies and reminded us of the power of visuals. Stories are often defaulted to what we can write or speak to, but through visual art, we can often express more than we thought possible. Through providing a calm and body-positive atmosphere, YACCtivists created a diverse array of self-portraits. It was one more lesson in being open and creative with how we share young adult cancer stories.

“This was just such a lovely way for everyone to unwind to create something magical. I love how everyone’s was different.” – Mandy

Big ideas brainstorm
We finished up looking toward what is to come. YACC founder and executive director Geoff Eaton led us through a powerhouse brainstorming session about how we were going to go back into our communities and build on this momentous weekend.

“The closing session was a perfect mix of sharing the common goal of #findthe21 and an inspirational ‘reach for the stars’ kind of energy. I left the session feeling focused on moving towards my personal tangible goals and the desire to share the world of YACC as far and wide as possible.” – Jenn R.

What’s next?
Stay tuned to see what our YACCtivists do with their new roles! We have many exciting ideas starting to bubble behind the scenes. We know our YACCtivists are going to have a huge part in expanding the reach of this organization, and we have a mission to #findthe21 of every 22 young adults diagnosed with cancer each day who don’t find YACC. We’re going to bring you all along on our journey—YACCers, supporters, volunteers, sponsors, and friends.

Want more? Check out our Instagram Story for an insider’s look into the weekend!

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