A ‘cancervention’ for young adults facing cancer

What do you do if you are a cancer patient in your twenties and can’t seem to find others like yourself?  If you are Dakota Fisher-Vance and Cara Scharf, you start a cancer connection group that sponsors meet-ups for fellow survivors.  This Saturday, those meet-ups will go to the next level with the first Young Adult Cancer Connection's (YACC) "Cancervention".

In 2014, two young ladies met through Stupid Cancer, an enormously impactful resource for the young adult cancer population. Dakota and Cara were each coming off their own battles with colon and breast cancer, respectively, and had connected as cancer survivors.  Both were disappointed at the sporadic local support groups for young adult cancers, despite the number of hospitals and higher education facilities in the Philadelphia area.

One meet-up led to another, which led to another and another, until they were alternating their monthly meetings between informal café discussions and fun, Philadelphia-based activities.  The group wanted to socialize beyond their common oncology bond, and to connect with this city and its local resources and activities, particularly the ones they found useful as patients.

After attending a young adult cancer event in Boston, Dakota and Cara formalized their group and planned for a similar event in the Delaware Valley.  The University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center got on board, and together the YACC and Penn have created the first of which hopes to be an annual event.

Any young adult (18-39 years old) affected by cancer is welcome to attend; this is also open to the caregivers and loved ones of young adults who are facing (or have faced) cancer and, most importantly, the health care professionals who treat this demographic.  Breakout sessions will be held for each different segment, with focus on things important to young cancer patients – careers, body image and self-care, managing side effects, even healing through art and dance.

Why should you spend a Saturday afternoon at 30th Street Station’s The Hub Cira Center?  Well, for starters, it’s supposed to rain so why sit in the house watching mindless TV when you can be a part of something meaningful?  Second, and more important, if you are a young adult with cancer (or know someone who is), this outreach program can make a difference in dealing with the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of current/former treatments.  It may also be an opportunity for YOU to help someone who is going through the same struggles as you.  Assisting other cancer patients is a wonderful, rewarding feeling.  As someone who dealt with cancer twice while in this age group, I can tell from first-hand experience how much healthier it is to connect with others than to bury feelings.

These young ladies have their minds in the same right place as their hearts.  Support is out there, and has never been easier to access or more widely known.  Going from a Google search to being actively engaged with fellow patients/peers is a big step, though.  One young lady, who had been hesitant to join, described her first meet up as “the best date she has ever been on”, and said she didn’t realize she needed the support until she got it.  Being able to talk about awkward, embarrassing, or “gross” things (like, say, a colostomy bag misadventure) without judgement or the dreaded “I feel sorry for you” look, offers the security of opening up with those who can relate. 

So many people go through the cancer experience and don’t think, or know, to look for others like them. If you are a young adult either currently fighting cancer, or have done so in the past, think about the number of people you have been able to talk to that truly understood where you were coming from.  There will be a lot of them there on Saturday, and they are eager to welcome you to a group you are already a part of. 

If you absolutely cannot make it there, Penn is also broadcasting the conference live via webstream. Follow Young Adult Cancer Connection on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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