Where Strangers Become Family: Learning and Connecting at an LBBC Conference

Attending a conference is a great way for to get the unique medical information you seek for specific types of breast cancer, while connecting with people from across the country who share your concerns. Young Advocate Jennifer Stringer Staggs shares her experiencing attend our 2014 fall conference. It’s not too late to attend this year’s conference; walk-ups are welcomed onsite!

Jennifer Stringer Staggs.jpgWhen I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 years old, I did a lot of internet investigating to find out as much as I could about breast cancer in young women. I came across a website called LBBC.ORG, which brought me to know and love Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

I found so much information at my fingertips and almost every question I had was answered. I started hitting road blocks when I found myself wanting to know more about the type of breast cancer I was diagnosed with – triple-negative breast cancer. At the time, triple-negative breast cancer did not have a lot of new info or research and I felt as if I was at a dead end.

I then started advertisements for LBBC’s annual fall conference on the organization’s website and Facebook page, and I thought it sounded really informative and possibly a great way for me to meet other survivors. One thing that stuck out the most to me was the fact that they had certain panels for people diagnosed with triple-negative disease. LBBC’s Young Women’s Initiative also offered a program called Young Advocates, which was taking place at the conference. Living in a smaller town there were not many other young women that were facing breast cancer with me. I felt so alone and it seemed as if I was going through it all alone. I did not want anyone else in my town to ever feel alone, and since there was not a strong young voice I wanted to be that voice.

When I found out it was in Philadelphia, I almost gave up as quickly as I found it; I live in Oregon, and traveling wouldn’t be easy. That’s when I found out there were travel grants and you could room with fellow participants for the duration of the conference. So I decided to go out on a limb and apply to be a Young Advocate so that I could make a difference.

I was still really nervous to travel across country alone, during my chemotherapy to a conference where I knew nobody. That’s when I met another young woman via Facebook who had breast cancer, and was only a town away. I convinced her to come with me and apply to be a Young Advocate, so we could go at cancer head first together.

Jennifer Stringer Staggs

Before the conference, I never went anywhere without wearing either a hat or wig. I was self conscious about being bald and people seeing me and judging me. I did not want to feel that way at the LBBC conference, so I went out and got a henna tattoo on my head so at the conference I could be brave and give much-needed smiles. It felt so freeing being able to walk about and not feel judged; instead many women there asked to hug me or told me I looked beautiful. My first day there, I teared up so many times just from meeting and talking with all of the nice and accepting people. Nobody cared what you looked like or about your background or demographics. Everyone was a big family and just supported each other, and strangers quickly became family.

The most powerful thing to happen to me at the conference was during the lunch break. A speaker asked attendees to stand up by how many years out they were from diagnosis. Seeing that in person moved me beyond what I could have ever expected and gave me so much hope. There were women like me who stood up because they were still going through treatment, and then there were women who were 20+ years from diagnosis, who not only stood up, but they stood up shouting and dancing with joy. So many happy tears happened at that moment.

A few tips I have for any newcomers to the conference:

  • Ask lots of questions and take notes
  • If breakout session speakers have slides available, take them so you can look back on the info
  • Go up to every exhibit booth, and don’t be afraid to reach out and sign up for some goodies
  • Go up to strangers and turn them into family; you never know when someone may be in need of a hug
  • Go out of your comfort zone – the conference is a place where you won’t be judged
  • Bring a camera  or use your camera phone and take lots and lots of pictures so whenever you feel down, you can look back to your family with Living Beyond Breast Cancer
  • Keep in touch with the people you meet at the conference and bring tissue!

 

Walk-ups are welcomed onsite for the 2016 Living Beyond Breast Cancer Conference: Individual Treatments, Shared Experiences! Learn more about the event at http://lbbc.org/2016conference

2 thoughts on “Where Strangers Become Family: Learning and Connecting at an LBBC Conference

  1. Thanks for sharing. I still see you in my mind sitting across from me at training to be a Helpline volunteer. I always thought breast cancer was an old woman’s disease. You opened my eyes to the many young students & mothers who are affected. Best wishes & good health is ahead. Hugs, Barb

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