From March 25 to March 27, the YSC Summit: Digitally Yours returned for its second virtual year. More than 1,600 registrants from 45 states and 30 countries came together over the weekend, and for the first time, the YSC Summit was free for all attendees.
As an organization serving the young breast cancer community, Young Survival Coalition (YSC) provides information and resources tailored specifically for diagnosed individuals under the age of 40. Common challenges alongside young breast cancer diagnoses include navigating changes to social and romantic relationships; balancing family and work responsibilities; and managing long-term side effects from cancer treatment, including impacts on mental health and fertility.
Jamie Larson, YSC’s director of marketing and communications, explains that event planners reflected on successes and feedback received from last year’s YSC Summit to make this year’s sessions even better. Some changes for the 2022 YSC Summit included longer workshops with subject matter experts, more time for individuals to connect in hangout rooms and a more flexible schedule with dedicated breaks.
Similarly to last year, themed hangout rooms were a popular place for attendees to meet one another in a casual environment and discuss specific topics within the breast cancer experience.
Themes included first-time attendees, survivors and thrivers of color, newly diagnosed, metastatic thrivers, flatties, early-stage survivors (one to five years), long-term survivors (over five years), LGTBQ+ attendees, Spanish-speaking individuals, co-survivors and triple negative breasties.
Preceding the summit’s opening session on Friday was the annual Legacy Retreat for Young Adults Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC), facilitated this year by April Stearns, founder of Wildfire Magazine. This session provided a space for MBC attendees to connect, share experiences and tap into creativity through the theme “Crafting the Life You Want.”
Larson explains that providing specific support for the MBC community is a longstanding priority for YSC. The organization’s MBC virtual support group is one of its oldest programs. As the discussions and concerns of this group are especially unique, Larson says that it’s “absolutely critical” for the YSC Summit to offer a dedicated space for these attendees.
As with other years, the YSC Summit covered always-important topics for the young breast cancer community regarding sex and relationships, both during cancer treatment and beyond. Larson notes that these topics are among the most popular every year, as an individual’s experience with breast cancer can greatly impact their body image, sexual health and relationships.
Common sex and relationship concerns were addressed in the Pajama Party at the Sex Lab with psychologist and sexual health expert Dr. Catalina Lawsin on Friday, as well as in the breakout session Between the Sheets: Sex and Intimacy after Diagnosis on Saturday with Dr. Sabitha Pillai-Friedman, associate professor at the Center for Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University.
Additional topics covered in the weekend’s educational sessions included early menopause, nutrition, self-advocacy and decision making, co-survivorship, parenting, chemobrain, the mental health impact of infertility, and insurance and legal issues.
This year featured the YSC Summit’s first-ever “Self-Care Sunday,” with an entire day dedicated to relaxation and self-care strategies that can be utilized every day. Activities included meditation, dance, a skin care and makeup demonstration, a sound bath, music therapy and self-massage for lymphedema prevention and management.
The YSC Summit closed out on Sunday afternoon with an inspiring keynote address from Chaunté Lowe, a four-time Olympian and young breast cancer survivor.
Lowe shared the story of her diagnosis and finding the strength and perseverance to navigate the challenges of breast cancer. She added that YSC helped connect her to resources and social connections within the young breast cancer community and empowered her as an advocate.
Robin Sprance, a four-year survivor, attended the YSC Summit from her home in New York City. Looking back on her own breast cancer treatment in 2018, Sprance remembers, “There’s a lot that you don’t know until you’re in it.”
As is all too common among the young breast cancer community, Sprance explains that the mental and physical impacts of cancer have extended beyond active treatment.
She originally connected with YSC’s support groups in 2021 and attended her first YSC Summit that year. She explains that her experience has been easier since meeting others who understand that cancer is not necessarily “over” when active treatment ends.
At this year’s YSC Summit, Sprance stepped up her involvement with YSC by moderating a breakout room to facilitate discussions among early-stage survivors. Additionally, she hopes to become involved with in-person meetups in the New York area once they are safe to resume.
While it’s too soon to know definitively, Larson says that YSC is hoping for the Summit to return to an IRL format in 2023. She adds that traditionally, the in-person Summit has included livestream access for its main sessions to ensure accessibility for those who are unable to attend physically.
And no matter the format in 2023, one thing is for sure: the YSC Summit will continue to provide crucial education and connections for hundreds of people in the young breast cancer community.
Learn more about YSC and access resources for the young breast cancer community at www.youngsurvival.org. YSC invites you to save your spot for the 2023 YSC Summit so you’re the first to receive information about next year’s event.