My dad, Jack.
I was asked to write a blog about my attendance at the Conference For Young Women being offered by the Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Young Survival Coalition Groups in Orlando, Florida in February. This is what I wrote BEFORE I went. Stay tuned for the follow-up.
A First Timer: Why I’m Going to Orlando
Cancer scares me. It probably scares you, too. We don’t know why it came when it came (in my case at 33), and whether it will ever come back. I’ve spent 11 years trying to distance myself from this ugly word. Force it from my consciousness. Expel it from my daily routine. Impossible at first, obviously, and ridiculously close for too many years, the sting of the connection between cancer and me has dissolved into the shadows.
So why in the world have I voluntarily plopped myself back into the froth? Because now that it doesn’t haunt me, I’m compelled to help others wade through it with some grace, dignity and peace of mind. How?
First, I’ve written and self-published on my own dime a children’s book explaining cancer of a loved one to young kids called Nowhere Hair. I wrote it because I wanted to offer young women a book that helps them find the words to explain their baldness to their kids. I wrote it to say, “You’re still hip, strong, brave, beautiful. You’re still an amazing mother. And oh yeah, you’re bald.” I wrote it to say to kids, “You’re confused. Scared. You have questions. But yeah, you’re still a kid who will appreciate if cancer can be approached in an honest, yet whimsical way.” I’ve been told this little book does the heavy lifting without being heavy. Kelly Corrigan, New York Times bestselling author of The Middle Place and Lift, who I share both a diagnosis, surgeon, and life outlook with, has also said that my words “put it all in the proper perspective. A wonderful tool for families.”
So second, armed with this kind of validation, I’ve signed up for C4YW. I’m anxious to meet those women brave enough to face their cancer head on and see if I can help them find the right words that are so elusive when you are in the midst of it all. Perhaps they’ll see an 11-year survivor turning an ugly diagnosis into something beautiful. Perhaps I’ll find inspiration from their stories.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m a bit wobbly about how this will feel. After all, C4YW is three days of being surrounded by all things breast cancer, including young women (and perhaps some men?) who have been handed a pretty heavy load. Will they be hopeful? Angry? Will all this talk of cancer feel overwhelming or empowering? Will cancer descend upon my shoulders and wrap around me again?
I don’t know. I’ve never been to something like this. I’ll just have to see. (And honestly, this conference grows in attendance every year, so I’m putting my money on the joyful/hopeful outcome.) I plan on sharing with you when it’s over.
While I’ll be there with my author hat on, I’m also attending as a young survivor. I can’t wait to hear Sandra Steinberger’s talk: The Case for a Greener World: Breast Cancer and the Environment. I live in Marin County, California, which happens to be the breast cancer epicenter of the world. You better believe I’ve been paying attention to how I live and what I put around and on this body of mine. She promises to teach me how to “protect myself from the many harmful chemical exposures plaguing our environment today.” Well, right on sister. I’m all ears.
Of course, I’m also interested in hearing Dr. Shenin Sachedina’s talk, “The ABC’s of Talking to Your Child about Breast Cancer.” Perhaps I can glean some new information, or offer some feedback from the women who have written to me. This topic is my passion. And like me, Dr. Sachedina’s written a children’s book to help explain the seemingly unexplainable, and there is nothing so wonderful as to meet a kindred soul.
So here’s to jumping into the great unknown. Along with more than 800 other young women with cancer and the people who love them and dedicate their professional lives to care for them and cure them, I will be in Orlando with my arms open wide.
Sue Glader is a writer, mother and breast cancer survivor living in Mill Valley, California. Her book, Nowhere Hair, is available at her website www.NowhereHair.com and through Amazon. Her blog, Poking Around Life, can be found at www.SueGlader.wordpress.com. Join Nowhere Hair’s Beautifully Bald Initiative at www.facebook.com/NowhereHair.