This blog appeared on the Living Beyond Breast Cancer site today.
As with most things, the anxiety around something new never quite plays out and the unexpected benefits delight. Such was my experience at C4YW this year in Orlando. Unequivocally, it was a great conference for me to attend.
These young women were brave. Honest. Open. Grateful. Healing. I met women smack in the middle of treatment, who had climbed aboard a plane to come to Orlando, because this conference was that important to them. They wanted to be surrounded by other young women who understood, and learn about issues that affect them specifically.
They let me into their lives, these women, sharing their stories, the names of their children (sometimes with halting voices and tears), and their worries. As someone just starting out selling my book, this was as real as it gets.
I was able to press 45 books into the hands of women with children at home, nurses who treat those women, and representatives of cancer support groups and national (and international) organizations who make it their business and passion to help these women.
Being an exhibitor on your own is a vigorous experience. For a total of 19 hours over 3 days, I stood up and talked to those who came by and expressed interest in my book. Gravity takes hold, and my toes, after being embraced by stylish yet slightly unforgiving footwear, swelled like ballpark franks. The second morning, instead of manning my table at an unforgivable 7:30 am until 6 pm (that’s 4:30 am for us west coast bodies!), I opted instead to get some fresh air and a run outside and slide in at 9 am.
I had hoped to go see a few of the speakers. But I learned that an exhibitor is not necessarily a participant, unless you sign up to be a participant. Now I know. And second, the exhibit hall, open during almost all the hours of the conference, never really quieted down. When most participants were in sessions, there were always a few others wandering in there, and that was also the best time to talk with other exhibitors. As business is about making contacts, this was a priceless opportunity to either meet face-to-face some of the people I’ve been emailing or talking to on the phone, or introduce myself to new organizations. When things got slow, I introduced myself, handed over a book, and encouraged them to read my work at their leisure.
I was struck by how many of us there on the exhibit side had a cancer diagnosis behind us. To wit: Josh at Lymphedivas, whose sister started the company because she couldn’t stand the ugly compression sleeves offered to her. Danielle and Angelle started Chemo Beanies because these two sisters couldn’t find something stylish and comfortable to wear when they lost their hair. Susan from the BeauBeau started a company to offer fashionable turbans to women with medical hair loss. Although she came from a family of women diagnosed with breast cancer, a diagnosis of Alopecia Areata motivated her. Countless non-profit organizations have been started to offer support and advice, from KC at Families Who Support Breast Cancer Survivors to Sarah at Project3One to a metastatic disease group represented by a mom and her young daughter. Next door to me Susan mixed personal experience with love and tenderness as she fitted women with a very beautiful (and sexy) double-arm compression garment she found manufactured in Italy. When I introduced myself to the three ladies at the Anita booth behind me, helping fit beautiful bras and swimsuits for women who have had a mastectomy surgery, I learned that Twila was a 19-year survivor, Merri was closing in on 10 years, and Colleen, diagnosed more recently, was 7 months out.
If any participant wanted to see “life after cancer” in full, glorious view, she had to look no further than the exhibit hall and at the other participants. It pains me that there are so many young women who need a breast cancer related conference, but there is comfort in knowing that by offering targeted programming in a supportive environment, people will gratefully gather to see that they are not alone.