2019 Survivor Conference: Growing Connections



It's been a week since I returned from the 2019 Young Adult Cancer Canada Survivor Conference, and I wanted to take a moment to touch on a major theme we discussed throughout the weekend: connection.

Connection: The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship - BrenĂ© Brown.

Connection brings people together through a commonality. Maybe it's a TV show, a favourite book, a sport, or maybe, cancer. The beauty of it is that as we come together over a common interest, our connection grows and expands into other areas of life. Throughout the weekend at the YACC Survivor Conference, the group participated in workshops, went on adventures, and had some intimate moments - myself very much included. We laughed together, discovered together and sometimes cried together. You felt the warmth and spirit from everyone there; you feel like you're home.

But what happens when you leave the conference?
What happens when you're not with your family of thrivers day-to-day, and how are you supposed to return to your life when it feels like something is missing?
How do we learn to connect after the conference and learn to move forward?

I have personally experienced these emotions of separation, isolation and loneliness. A few days ago my fellow friend and thriver Marley and I hosted a Facebook Live where we talked about keeping that connected feeling as we return to our lives. I wanted to summarize everything we talked about here, a place for people to return to and get some ideas on how to grow their community.



Growing Connections

1. Think about who you sat with on the first night; your table of fellow blood, thyroid, breast or colon cancers. Think about those people and their stories, and what brought you together at that table. After the conference ends, take a moment and check-in with one of some of those people. Sending them a quick message, letting them know you're thinking of them, can lead to more conversation and deepen your connection. 

2. Every year at the conference we are given a book of bios and names. Marley and I both went through that book and added each person, even if we didn't get to talk to them much or at all during the weekend - it's an easy way to connect with people across the country and grows your community.

3. Throughout the weekend we were asked to write down the name of someone who we met that impacted us and somebody that maybe we wished we had more time to spend with at the conference. When you get home, message them! Let them know that you were happy they came, that you want to hear their story and get to know them better.

4. Join the YACC mailing list. I believe that letters come to us at the times we need them most. Maybe you'll come home from a bad day at work, or you had some emotional distress, or maybe you're overall feeling unwell. You open your mailbox and find a letter from someone who was thinking about you. The beauty of these letters is that they are anonymous. You never really know who sent it, but you always know that someone is thinking of you and wants you to know that.

5. Not everyone has an amazing time at the conference. I remember my first conference...I was literally shitting myself. It takes some people a few days to really find their groove. If you notice someone who is on their own, quiet, or distant, then reach out to them. Go up and introduce yourself during the weekend or online after. It's normal to feel alone at some point, it's part of the growth process. I try and remind people who seem more reserved, that putting yourself out there will help you build those connections. Maybe they don't know where to start or are overwhelmed. Your message to this person could help them feel at ease. It's important, I think, to foster these relationships because we want YACC to continue to grow and thrive, and if someone is isolated, they may not want to come back. We want them to come back, we want them in our community. Your message to them could make that difference, either during or after the conference.

6. Not everyone gets to go to the Survivor Conference. If you feel left out, or isolated, then do a shout out on the YACC Facebook group. Shout out to your fellow cancer group, you won't be let down. You could have a conversation over some of the tools learned at the conference or maybe who we met.

7. Connect with professionals in the community: social workers, coordinators, anyone who can offer you a resource or support. The facilitators at the retreat are not there to just give us speeches, they are there to broaden our connections and give us tools to access as we live beyond cancer. Reach out to them, even if they work in another province, they can connect you with people closer to home.

8. Finally, try out a Locallife event or go to a Retreat. These smaller events allow for a different kind of connection and can help you work through your balls of shit. The Retreat, in particular, is an amazing opportunity for learning how to move forward and deal with some deeper issues. I have been to my own retreat as well as returning as a peer supporter and it was such a reward experience. I was able to help myself by helping others on an intimate level by storytelling and connection through my personal experience.

I hope this little summary gives you some ideas on how to build connections as you return to your life. Did I miss something you'd like to include? Drop a comment below!



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