CANCERCON 2016 – BY DAN DEAN
CancerCon is a set of two paradoxes:
the conference operates likes a living,
breathing pair of theater masks
and you talk more than normal,
but need fewer words to do so.
If you’re not familiar with it, CancerCon is a three-day cancer jam held in Denver, bringing together over 600 adolescent and young adult (AYA) fighters and survivors from around the country to attend seminars and network with those who share their same diagnosis. The hallways, breakout rooms and lobby buzz with the sounds of old friends catching up and new ones forming bonds that circumvent time and geography.
At times, the conference can feel overwhelming: connections are being made and rekindled, helpful information and stories are swapped between patients and survivors, attendees are dealing with aspects of their recovery for the first time, while also finding the community and resources to continue their healing. Emotions run high and deep.
Through every encounter, whether shared in joy or sadness, is a sense of relief. For the first time, many patients and survivors don’t have to give their 15-minute cancer back story. There’s not the urge or need to explain their journey that people on the outside don’t quite understand. Over time, cancer fighters and survivors become practiced storytellers, explaining gaps in employment and dating and taking outsiders on a CliffsNotes tour of their treatment and recovery.
In that sense, AYAs can feel alone, separated from their peer group and friends at home. When social dynamics change so starkly into the ascension of adulthood, throwing a cancer diagnosis in the mix can feel isolating and confusing. The same challenges that cause a person to feel alienated in one circle are embraced and accepted at CancerCon. No longer is the cancer preamble needed.
Instead, patients and survivors jump into deep conversations right away, much in the same way two old friends catch up instantaneously. About midway through a conversation you realize how amazing it is to form a bond with someone you met only 20 minutes ago who lives seven states away.
There’s no way to neatly encapsulate the range of emotions at CancerCon. It’s unique to both laugh and cry about the same experience. When you say the three words, “I had cancer,” everyone gets you. And those things are worth the trip to Denver.
May 25th, 2016
Dan is an actor, writer, advocate, survivor and we are lucky to have him as a board member.
You can check out his blog at: http://www.cancer-youngadult.org