This entry was written by Jayme Gittings, our Manager of Individual Giving:
Pink boas, cowboy hats and fuzzy bras. Sexy swimsuits, brassy tee shirts and pajamas. A whole lotta attitude and a whole lotta love.
That’s what I found at the 10th Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer.
This year was my first experience, but it was a milestone 10th anniversary for participants. Coming from all corners of the country and across the world, over 800 women arrived to learn more about breast cancer, treatment options and ways to improve their own quality of life. I was lucky enough to join the Living Beyond Breast Cancer team to support the conference and was blown away by the experience.
Each woman I met touched me in a different way. The teenager who was diagnosed at 14 and found a community of women to embrace her. The 73-year old who was diagnosed in the 1965 and feels it’s her job to come every year and “hand out hugs.” The research scientist eager to discuss healthcare legislation with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Canadian advocate who found a world of information and possibilities in the exhibit hall, many unavailable in her country. The German native who powered through her most recent round of treatment to attend and find fellowship thousands of miles from home. The New York specialty designer who left with a wealth of knowledge about how to best craft beautiful clothes for women with mastectomies.
I was awestruck. No bouquet of wilting lilies, this group wanted real information, real help, real support…the real deal. They grabbed hold of the chance to talk openly and freely about their concerns, hopes and fears surrounding their diagnosis. In workshops, they asked probing and specific questions. They spent the in between time meeting up at networking tables for groups like “advanced (metastatic) breast cancer” and “very young diagnosis.” And they relaxed and socialized with hundreds of other women who knew exactly what it felt like to be a young woman affected by breast cancer.
The weekend was an emotional one for me. I have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, but I have loved and cared for many who have. My mother was diagnosed with a rare cancer at the age of 40, with two young children and a blossoming career, but without the support of a conference such as this. As a witness to this collective force of women, I could only stand awestruck.
I hesitate to use the word hope, because it is such an intangible concept, ephemeral almost. Rather, I felt the power and strength of the women in those rooms. It was palatable and concrete. It was as real as every woman who walked proudly through registration looking for answers and compassionate support.
I was proud, too. Proud to be a small part of such amazing work.
Next year I will be front and center at the 11th Annual Conference. Will you?
Let us know what you thought of the conference by leaving a comment below or posting it on our Facebook page.
Stay tuned for photos from the event!