Young Survival Coalition’s annual summit may have gone virtual this year, but there was no shortage of making connections and fostering community for young women warriors.
Since going through breast cancer treatment in 2019, I’ve been eager to connect with other thrivers who faced similar experiences in their 20s and 30s. Facing breast cancer at such a young age can feel confusing and lonely, and finding peers can make all the difference. Though many in-person gatherings were paused or cancelled in the last year and a half, I’m thankful for the impressive number of virtual opportunities that have brought our community together during this time.
One organization that pivoted to a virtual event format for 2021 is Young Survival Coalition (YSC). I was one of more than 1,000 attendees at YSC’s first-ever Virtual Summit on May 21–23. Typically held annually as an in-person event, the YSC Summit had been on my wish list since I first heard of YSC in 2019. I knew it would address many issues of specific importance to our younger age group, including sex and intimacy, career topics, fertility and mental health.
Clearly these topics are valued by many other young breast cancer thrivers, given the event’s high attendance and the flurry of activity in the session chats. Here are a few important takeaways from my experience at the 2021 Young Survival Coalition Virtual Summit:
Sex and intimacy after cancer present both physical and mental challenges. We may need to explore new paths to sexual fulfillment.
At Friday night’s “Sex After Cancer” panel, psychologist and sex therapist Jordan Rullo encouraged attendees to “find a new path” for their sexual experiences if their pre-cancer approach to sex is no longer possible or enjoyable. We can also strive to “focus on the journey and not the goal.” Mindfulness—being fully present in the moment without judgement—can help us enjoy a broad range of sexual experiences rather than focusing on one specific end result. Plus, mindfulness can be practiced solo or with a partner.
Cancer is no joke, but humor can help us bond over our common experiences.
I’m not the only one who grew tired of hearing “But at least you look good bald!” when I was in treatment. Many cancer warriors can relate to these comments—the ones we hear over and over from well-meaning family and friends during our cancer experience. On Saturday, a virtual edition of the party game “Never have I ever” and an all-female comedy lineup helped us poke a little fun at some of the weird and wild parts of our cancer journeys.
Self-care is not just a buzzword; it’s an essential component of thriving during and after cancer.
Many of the weekend’s sessions focused on a holistic approach to our overall health. Activities included meditation, yoga, a belly dancing lesson and a healthy recipes demonstration. Presenters encouraged us to nurture our emotional and mental well-being in addition to our physical health. Taking time to care for ourselves and enjoy hobbies can bring calm to an otherwise chaotic world of cancer treatment and survivorship.
Even though we all attended the YSC Summit virtually, I experienced a true sense of bonding and community in the session chats and smaller breakout groups throughout the weekend. These connections are a vital reminder that I’m not alone, and that I have hundreds of peers to talk with about my experience as a young breast cancer thriver. I’m already looking forward to the 2022 YSC Summit and meeting new friends in person!
Meghan McCallum is a freelance writer and French to English translator. Since being diagnosed with stage III triple negative breast cancer at age 32, Meghan has taken an active role in the cancer community to share stories and resources. She strives to support conversations around cancer and empower others to advocate for their own health and well-being.