CancerCon 2016

Sunday, 15 May 2016.

A couple weekends ago my friend and fellow survivor, Kim and I ventured up to Denver, Colorado for the second year to attend stupidcancer‘s annual CancerCon.  I cannot say enough positive things about CancerCon.  The past two years that we’ve attended it’s been held at the Sheraton Downtown Denver which is super convenient.  This year we were able to take a light rail from the airport to downtown and then hop on a bus for free to deliver us right to the front door of the hotel.  Super affordable at just $18 round trip and no need to tip anyone.

The conference is aimed at young adults as well as their caretakers and advocates.  The young adult cancer movement is still pretty… well, young.  A lot of people, when diagnosed in their teens and early twenties are treated on a pediatric unit, which you can imagine adds to the isolation one might already be feeling.  The alternative is to be treated on an adult unit surrounded by much older patients.  The movement is all about providing support, programs, research and community in an age appropriate fashion.  We all deserve to survive with dignity and it is so humbling to meet other young adults walking through this journey.

Video Recap from 2015

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Kimberley and I at the beginning of our disastrous drive up to Dever last year.  I got extremely carsick when we were a little more than half way there.  Like the tough ladies we are we pushed through and it was so worth it.

Each year I have met people from all different stages of the journey.  Some are in the throws of treatment and wearing masks because of their immune deficiencies while others are 10 or 15 years out.  I remember particularly last year I desperately wanted to speak with someone who had gone through my same illness, close to my age, without needing a bone marrow transplant.  I was lucky to be responding so well to my protocol, but it was somewhat rare in that many people don’t respond as well and require a BMT.

I met my ‘match’ during lunch on Saturday  when the tables are always grouped by diagnosis and I asked her question after question.  I was particularly curious about her experience with fertility.  She was so sweet and patient with me. We talked so long that I was about fifteen minutes late to the next break out session.  I felt so fortunate to be able to ask her questions face to face and have her explain things to me that I hadn’t even thought about; it was truly invaluable.  I came away feeling like I had a better understanding of what I would face over the next year, and I felt far more prepared and plugged in to a community that I could turn to for support.

This year I got a lot more out of the breakout sessions.  I think I enrolled in sessions that were more applicable to what’s going on in my life in addition to being more capable of processing information.  The following are the highlights from most of the sessions I attended.

Let’s Get Physical: [General Session]

  • Learn to adapt to your new body & understand that there’s something that will work for you (find exercises that fit your new capabilities)
  • Take back a little each day of what made you “you” before treatment [mentally, physically, emotionally]
  • Being in the physical space {yoga studio} can be a huge psychological benefit even if you can’t participate in the activity yet {participate mentally by listening to the leader and focus on your breath if you can’t do the stretches and poses}
  • Understand that you will know the difference between can’t and don’t feel like it
  • Show yourself compassion and be a friend to yourself
    • In the morning when your alarm is going off and you feel like hitting the snooze button, tell yourself “WE always feel better when we get up early and start our day off right.”
  • Focus on the goal of being Healthy; being healthy helps survive treatment, recovery, & survivorship
  • Visualize who you want to be and see yourself whole & healed

Sweat Equity: How Investing in Exercise Improves Cancer Survivorship [Breakout Session]

  • Avoid inactivity and find an individualized program
  • Consider keeping an exercise journal, over time you will be able to look back and see the progress you’ve made
  • Carbs + protein before and after a workout will really help

Integrative Nutrition: Lose the Pyramid [Breakout Session]

  • Do not try to incorporate all of these into your diet at once, pick one or two to focus on
  • 3 types of foods – Fat, Carb, Protein
  • Understand the difference between refined foods vs. whole foods
    • ex) apple juice vs. apple
    • the natural delivery system of a food is an important part of receiving the nutrients
    • the more time and processes that have occurred  decreases the nutrients
  • Repeated, daily insults (desserts, high sugars) over time cause our issues
  • A sustainable strategy will be evolutionarily familiar – if it wasn’t around 100 years ago, it’s not real food
  • Suggested Diet (not a fad)- Mediterranean Diet
    • vegetables, fruits, nuts, good fats
    • moderate amount of alcohol which aids in the digestive process
    • low amount of meat + dairy
    • Eating in community – which encourages rest & digest
  • 7 Criteria for food selection
    • whole
    • fresh, natural, real organically grown
    • seasonal
    • local
    • in harmony with tradition
    • balanced
    • delicious
  • Dietary Toxins = cereal & soda (diet & regular)
    • diet soda causes your body to release insulin when you have not actually consumed sugar, so you blood sugar crashes causing you to over-eat, resulting in a roller coaster effect
    •  regular soda works in a similar way, when you consume up to 40-45g of sugar depending on the soda, you blood sugar spikes, your body releases insulin which overshoots and it crashes, and you’re back on the roller coaster
    • whether drinking diet or regular your body will most likely over-eat as a way to counteract the crash it feels afterwards
    • if you drink a soda – consider it your dessert
    • the amount of sugar and sprayed on vitamins in cereal makes it a dietary toxin – find a recipe for homemade granola and make weekly batches
  • Excessive refined carbs cause weight gain, not fats
  • Low-fat diet craze results in a lack of Vitamin D
  • Use different types of fat in your diet when cooking – grass fed butter, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee
  • Rank in importance to you:
    • cost
    • convenience
    • quality
    • taste

What’s in Your Cancer Closet: Improving Self Awareness [Breakout Session]

This was an interesting activity/visualization where we took a piece of paper and folded it in half.  On the front we wrote out how we think we appear to other people – the pieces of ourselves that we are willing to show on a daily basis:

IMG_5587On the inside we were supposed to write what are some good and bad things that we think we have kept hidden from others or that we don’t show as much:

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  • Consider: What is in your cancer closet?
    • good & bad aspects that you haven’t thought about it a while
    • what do you wear all the time and show people
    • what do you keep hidden
    • what “outfits” have you not worn in a long time that may be good to bring out
  • Suggestion: write things down, they become more manageable once they stop rolling around in your mind and they’re down on a piece of paper
    • be creative: haiku, journal, art, voice recordings

I really enjoyed this session because it made us dig a little deeper and consider what we have going on in our minds and hearts that we don’t always share with the world.  I will probably do this activity again on my own time when I have a chance.

The following is an interview of Andrew McMahon (main vocalist and lyricist for Something Corporate & Jack’s Mannequin) who was diagnosed I think at 19 with ALL.  I thought it was extremely powerful and it was so awesome to get to hear him speak at CancerCon.  We also learned about his foundation, the dear jack foundation which works to support the physical and emotional needs of adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients from diagnosis through survivorship.

His performance of The Resolution @CancerCon:

His performance of Cecelia and The Satellite @CancerCon:

 

I know this post was super long but I thank you for taking the time to read through it.  I hope if you or someone you love is suffering from cancer that this will help.  There’s a community out there that loves and supports you: go find it!! xoxo

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PS: They made the announcement for CancerCon2017…..

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….. I’ll be there, how about you?!

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