At this year’s annual fall conference, Breast Cancer Today: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences, we’re not just providing you with the unique information you seek; we’re offering you the chance to connect with others and learn that you’re not alone. While being treated for breast cancer, Lynn Folkman went to her first-ever LBBC fall conference in 2009. She blogs about that day and the importance of creating the conference experience you want. Lucky for us, Lynn joined the team at Living Beyond Breast Cancer in 2012 as our Community Engagement Manager.
It was fall 2009 – I had just completed chemotherapy, radiation therapy and was a few months into my year of taking trastuzumab (Herceptin) and I was exhausted. I found out about the LBBC Annual Fall Conference through one of my support groups and the thought of attending alone was too overwhelming for me, so I agreed to attend with a friend I met during treatment.
The conference that year was held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. I was a bit nervous about attending, as I had previously worked at the Convention Center and still knew quite a few people there, and they did not know that I had breast cancer. As well, the tables were turned; I was a meeting planner and instead of producing the event, I was experiencing the conference as an attendee.
I was in an emotionally raw and vulnerable state. I was at the point in my treatment where I often wondered if or when I would ever feel like myself again. I was tired of hearing the comment, “You look really great!” I longed for a day where I could be invisible and no one would know that I had breast cancer. However, I was still mostly bald and there was no masking what I was currently experiencing. I was apprehensive about having to endure glances from people who knew me, which would be mixed with a combination of sympathy and trepidation. They were used to the vivacious energetic Lynn, not the exhausted Lynn. How could I possibly fake it when I did not even have the energy to do so?
A few things occurred that day which continue to deeply comfort my mind and spirit and reinforce the special place in my heart for the LBBC Fall Conference. Since it was my first time attending, I had no idea what to expect. The day began with the opening session, the speaker welcomed the group and then asked people how far out they were from the time of their diagnosis. When your year was called, you were instructed to raise your hand. One year and under, my hand went up. I don’t remember the exact breakdown, but it went something like this: 1-5 years, 5-10 years, 10-15 years, more than 15 years and so on. What I do remember is being overwhelmed as I heard cheers and looked around the room and saw so many raised hands and proudly smiling faces.
By just being in the room, a wave of relief came over me. At that moment, I realized I was not alone and would never be alone again. Here I was surrounded by so many who shared a common bond. To say it gave me hope would be an understatement. It touched my being and brought me to tears.
My friend had to leave before lunch. I was now alone, but the morning session was still resonating inside me and had shifted my perspective. As lunch approached my energy began to diminish. I decided to sit quietly in a big comfortable leather chair in the concourse and have lunch by myself. My memory of the vibrant Lynn speeding through the hallways, multitasking and balancing what seemed like a million event details came flooding back to me. That felt like a lifetime ago as I sat relaxing in the chair. I wanted to go back to being invisible for a just a bit. As I was eating my lunch, one of the stagehands who I had previously worked with came over to say hello. He talked about the old times and how good it was to see me, and of course he asked me how I was doing and if I was ok. We talked briefly and just a few kind words were exchanged. Suddenly, I was invisible no more and I welcomed the warm connection and conversation.
I initially wanted to attend the conference to educate myself about breast cancer. I left that afternoon with that and more. My lesson that day taught me that support, connection and kindness reveal themselves in many different ways and sometimes in ways that you least expect; from a kind gesture through an old colleague or the chance to connect with a room full of strangers.
This conference is about the experience that you wish to have and create – whether that is connecting with others, being quiet and centering yourself, taking in all the education and information, or yes, just taking a rest. You are free to be yourself in an accepting environment no matter how you’re feeling.
Life has taken me full circle. I am 5 years from my diagnosis, we are returning to the Convention Center and I will be working the conference as an LBBC staff member. I no longer have the desire to be invisible and I look forward to the conference to have the opportunity to meet and connect with all those who attend. If you are so inclined on that day, please stop by and introduce yourself – I would love to meet you in person!
Create the conference experience YOU want! Register for our fall conference before the Early Bird discount ends this Friday, September 5!