YACC Survivor Conference 2011

As this is going to be a longer post I have made this review of YACC's Survivor Conference 2011 it's own page.

As with every YACC event, it was full of emotion, information, and connections.  Now to get more indepth with the details of the conference and my views on it.

It was great to find out that I'm not the only younger woman going through breast cancer with a young one in tow.  I connected with women who had 7 month olds, 11 month olds, etc, when diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was exhilarating to be able to talk to others that were going through similar issues.  Which brings me to one of my suggestions for YACC to consider for future conferences: "Retreat??"  Having been to Retreat in the Spring I found myself clinging to the issues we had discussed in depth and dove into the relationships that I had made at it.  But for roughly half of the attendees of the conference, they have yet to experience a Retreat.  If I had a nickle for every time I said, "You have to go to a Retreat", I'd be rich!  Frankly, Retreats and Conferences are two totally different feelings.  I found that this was an attempt to combine the two, and took away from the connectivity of the conference.  There was still great connections to be made and lots of information but with all the new-to-YACC people trying to understand what was going on, it was a very loaded couple of days.  I was told that once it was mandatory to attend a Retreat before attending the Conference, and if this is no longer the rule, new steps should be put in place.  I'll get to that in a bit.

Presentations.  They were great.  Great speakers, great issues.  We discussed "Brain Fog" (something many call "Chemo Brain" but it is evident in those that never had chemotherapy), Survivorship, and advocacy.  It was wonderful to discuss the impact that activity and inactivity can have on your healing and recovery, even in your ability to remain in remission (or achieve it).  Discussing the sciences behind Brain Fog was very informative and helped many people feel more at ease with the fact that they were going through this, they were not going crazy after all! lol  And the talk with Dr Tony Fields about "The Power of One" was great for those needing to hear how to approach advocacy and its details.

We are not the cause of our cancer, we have not been on this Earth long enough for environment to be a major factor in our decease.  We are not responsible for why we have cancer, sometimes bad things happen to good people and they become better people for it.  We are also not alone.  There are more and more young adults coming forward and attending YACC events.  Together we can end the isolation!!

YACC did a great job of trying to keep the conference flowing to the agenda.  But whenever you have close to 100 people to co-ordinate, things will happen.  The food made by the hotel was not the quality that is generally see at YACC events, this is something due to the venue and not YACC I would like to note.  The hotel was not sure how to deal with our crowd, it seemed.

Time is always an issue as well.  As with the Retreat, I do find that it feels too compressed trying to fit everything in the three and a half days.  Options?  Not many can take a full week, it's just not going to happen.  Perhaps and optional two days tagged onto the end of the event for those that can stay.  Have no speakers, just YACC staff on hand, perhaps some Peer Supporters, and have discussion groups and activities for those that can remain.  The fact is as much as we were able to connect with others, there were so many more at Conference that we just did not have time to talk with them.  There was no time to meet everyone with the packed schedule (not that it wasn't fun, but it was a tad hectic at times).

I have a few suggestions/comments on some of the activities that we had this weekend:

1. The dance would be best after the Climb, Saturday night.  Have the climb, then instead of an hour at a pub to celebrate, have us go back, prepare, and meet at the restaurant for the banquet followed by a dance.  The next morning have a brunch, not a breakfast at 8a.  This will let everyone relax and enjoy themselves without worrying about catching flights, leaving the dance early, or missing the entire event so that they can get home on time.
2. Have the hotel step up their game on the food.  They should provide options for those that cannot eat due to allergies or aversions more readily.  This hotel tried to accommodate, but they didn't.
3. If there's no longer the policy that one must attend a Retreat prior to attending a Conference, there should be several hours put aside in the first days to help connect them with the issues that we discuss during Retreat.  It's understandable that not everyone can attend a Retreat, but there is so much value in going to one for your soul and your mind, it really needs to be addressed.  Perhaps two two hour sessions that have smaller groups interact about issues and meet briefly to discuss their findings.  This could help ground the new attendees to the foundation those that have been to Retreat have come to rely on.
4. Don't let the Conferences get too large.  60-80 people including YACC facilitators is probably the best idea for numbers.  Unless a better format is found for structuring the events.  We want to meet each other, not look at our booklet of attendees afterwards and say "I never saw that person".
5. One on ones with the facilitators.  It would be terrific to be able to get to know more of the facilitators, not just the ones that oversaw the small group sessions.  We want to know you, too.
6. Although the break on Friday was great, an hour to two hour break after lunch would have served a great purpose.  Some were exhausted from all the activities/speakers and needed a bit more time to rest.  Some just went anyways but we want to participate in everything YACC has brought for us to experience.  We love your activities, but sometimes our bodies will not co-operate.
7.  The Climb was a wonderful event.  The only way I could see to improve it is as mentioned in suggestion #1, have a great celebration afterwards.
8. Mixing the small groups was great.  It was wonderful to be able to show that even if you have the same or different cancer, we go through very similar things.  Keeping the groups the same did help with continuity, even though I understand people wanting to interact with more of the attendees, I feel that the event needs the stability of maintaining the same group for check ins/outs.
9. Keep the coasts connecting.  I know it's hard to get people from both coasts, but it is so beneficial to have all of Canada represented (or at least most of her).  We are Young Adult Cancer Canada Survivor Conference attendees, we want to see what's happening from Halifax to Victoria.  I understand for a numbers point of view it may need to be considered broken up into two or more events, but I have faith that YACC can find a way to make us come together from coast to coast.

I may add more to this page at a later time, but for now, I'm bushed!  Take care!!!  (Now go sign up for the next YACC event, you will never regret it!)

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