Well, we did it! We made it our first-ever Cancer Con!
If you’ve been living under a rock (or haven’t been reading my posts), CancerCon is annual conference—for young adults–where hundreds of patients, survivors, caregivers, family, advocates, and healthcare professionals gather for 3-5 days for support, community, education, empowerment and inspiration. It’s truly an epic event because people who are diagnosed with cancer between ages 18-35 have very different concerns, issues, and obstacles to overcome when facing a serious illness than say someone in their 60s or 70s.
So I was extremely proud and honored to be a part of such an event for many reasons.
For more than two years now (since I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia while 29 weeks preggo), I’ve been unable to travel out of state. I don’t know about you guys, but a change of scenery for a bit works wonders for me. And, getting the green light from my oncologist made me feel like I’m making progress—though it’s been very slow and had many setbacks—to a more functional life.
Beyond just that, I completed one of my goals for 2017—to go to CancerCon (see post here) and somehow help others/volunteer.
My fundraising goal was $2K, and I reached my goal and went above it raising $2212! Of course, I was only able to do this because of you, my readers, friends, and family who supported something I am so passionate about. Thank you!
OK. OK. I know you want to know the deets on the trip…
Well, our CancerCon 2017 trip to Denver almost didn’t happen.
Yep, true story.
Thanks to my erratic body that likes to be unpredictable—and the center of attention—really tried to screw this trip up for me.
We were undecided on going to CancerCon in the weeks and literally days leading up to the trip. My recent bouts with Superior Vena Cava Syndrome (SVCS) and pneumonia definitely caused some hesitation on our end whether it was safe for me to travel. And since my body wasn’t recovering too well from either of those illnesses (which also required two different hospital stays), it was a decision we felt had to be made only days prior to the conference.
We went to our weekly oncology appointment that Tuesday (of CancerCon), and the doc gave me a ‘thumbs up’ and reassured us that we could do this—travel to Denver for CancerCon safely.
We booked our flight, hotel, and rental car that night and my anxiety began to emerge.
The night before the trip, I was in a lot of pain, struggling to get up and move around, depressed about how I looked and how nothing fit me, and upset that I was still swollen and uncomfortable.
I looked like I swallowed a basketball, my hair looked worse than Joe Dirt’s mullet, my makeup wasn’t doing me any favors either. I would have stayed in like a hermit if it weren’t for this conference. Despite all of that everyone insisted I still go to Denver to push the “refresh” button on life and feel inspired again.
I could tell early Friday morning (when we left for the airport) that my body was going to be a dick and it was going to be a rough weekend, despite getting the go-ahead from our docs.
I was already struggling to stand up that morning and getting into Klay’s truck without help was impossible, so I got more concerned how I’d manage over the weekend.
I walked slowly through the airport (even though Klay was carrying my carry-on bag and his). Then he’d have to stop and encourage me to keep moving or he’d slip his arm behind me to make sure I didn’t fall or slow down. I was out-of-breath and worn out before we even got to the TSA.
And, sidenote, is it just me or are those people just jerks? I mean I’d hate that job too, and I’d get frustrated with people who don’t listen, but they are real ass-bags. They treat you like you’re an idiot and like you can’t follow directions, but you’re being told to do one thing by on agent and then another one is griping at you because you didn’t do what he said. We had like five people telling us different things and every one of them would snap at you with a comment as if you’re incompetent. I wanted to say something, but I figured I should shut my mouth so we could get on this trip instead of being the crazy lady on the news who flipped out on some TSA folks.
Anyway, when it came down to us boarding the plane from DFW to Denver, I was just hoping for the best—and glad we weren’t flying United. Ha.
With every thought racing through my head during the flight and concerned with how bad I really felt, I wasn’t sure how sociable I’d be. By the time we made it to Denver I was struggling to walk.
We checked into the hotel, dropped off our bags in our room, and immediately went downstairs to register for the conference—which since we were “first-timers,” we received an unexpected special—and loud–applause (more like hooting and hollering). All eyes were on us as our arrival to the conference was shouted across a room full of volunteers and attendees.
Soon after our “welcome” ended. we were directed to a session for first-timers.
As we walked into to a grand ballroom I looked around at a sea of people talking and laughing, sharing their stories, hugging old friends. There I was, standing in a room full of people like me, people who can relate to my pain and emotions; it was awe-inspiring.
Nearly 650 heads—some bald, some with hair and some without —gathered together to meet other young adults and make lifelong connections and friends who support you through all the cancer feels.
We all need each other and that was evident when looking around at all of the attendees, you could see it—the unspoken bond that brought us all together.
Just from the welcoming session alone—which was full of laughter, camaraderie, and joy—you couldn’t help but be inspired and accepted.
I finally felt like this, this is what I’ve been waiting for. These are my people. People who get me, who get cancer. The people who understand it all. I was finally with my tribe.
After the general session, we were directed to different rooms to learn more info about the conference, the sessions, and how the weekend would play out etc. During that sesh, the moderators did an awesome icebreaker where everyone had to turn to the person next to you and play rock, paper, scissors. The winner of that game has to find another winner to play, and it goes on and on until you get to the final two. If you lose, you become a cheerleader for the person who beat you.
The once quiet room was now loud and full of smiles. Everyone was yelling, cheering on the winners. The guy who beat me (after I won a few games) ended up being the winner of our entire group/session. We were all chanting loudly for our champion—“Scott, Scott, Scott”—as he’d go from person to person and win. It was really fun and a great way to meet people and get the awkwardness out of the way. And even Klay was having fun!
But even though all of these cool things were happening, I still struggled physically to keep up. We asked some folks for directions to a room we were supposed to attend and they sent us to a stairway with two flights of stairs y’all.
I cling to the rail when I try to make it up four or five steps, because you know with my luck, my ass will be tumbling down the stairs J Law style—except I wouldn’t be wearing a dress, I don’t make millions of dollars and I definitely wouldn’t be able to get up.
When we finally reached the top of one flight of stairs, we turned to look at the other—which felt like it had an infinite amount of stairs—and although Klay was encouraging me, he was also holding me up so he could control me if my legs called it quits mid-way up. My legs almost gave out at one point but he grasped me tighter and hoisted me up hurrying us up the next few steps until we finished the long climb up.
I seriously thought that might have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in LIFE at that moment. I felt like I deserved a medal, one BILLION dollars (I say that in my Dr. Evil accent with my pinky up to my mouth), and the music from Rocky playing in the background as I jump and punch the air.
But there was no music, no punching, or celebrating, and definitely no jumping. There was sitting though, once we found the nearest bench or chair.
Or can I just get one of these next to stairs all the time?
I knew then at that moment, this weekend was going to be a lot harder than I originally thought.