For the past twelve years, the Young and Strong Program at Dana-Farber has held an annual gathering for women who were diagnosed with breast cancer at an age younger than the average. Two Fridays ago, on 12th October 2018, Breast Cancer in Younger Women: A Forum for Patients and Survivors rolled around again — and this time I was able to take it all in from planning to execution.
Last year’s Forum found me only a week into my new role as a coordinator for the young women’s program; everything was a blur, to the degree that I didn’t even know one of our breast oncologists who was actually a speaker that day (I enthusiastically welcomed her and tried to register her as a guest, much to my chagrin). This year I relished being able to comfortably greet all the faculty/staff by name — and even better was seeing some of my own patients’ on the guest list and us recognising each other when they arrived. It felt so good to have quite literally come full circle in my work.
The night before: preparing hundreds of information folders and gift bags.
The gift bags contain useful mementos for the attendees — this year’s included lip balm and reusable travel cups.
Despite the rainy weather, we had a solid turnout — not solely women, and not exclusively young. The atmosphere was light, happy, and occasionally teary as people connected with peers and felt their experiences with breast cancer validated. October is breast cancer awareness month globally, a designation that can sometimes make the numerous commemorative events seem merely perfunctory; however, this gathering was for me a real reminder of the daily impact of our work. The photos below are a very brief summary of the day — not shown are the other main talk, panels, small group sessions, the expo featuring various organisations that provide resources/services to patients and survivors. And, of course, lunch. 😀
It was a full day, featuring an array of subjects commonly of interest to patients/survivors/caregivers.
The day closed with a lovely social (also not pictured) co-sponsored by the Young Survival Coalition, during which I enjoyed rich conversations with patients present and former. Some I’d first met in clinic several months ago, others just a few weeks prior; some had completed or were in the last stages of treatment, others were just getting going. It was so beautiful to see them all in this different setting — relaxed and laughing, hair growing back, and other visible markers of progress.
What I’d also like to see at future young women’s fora, whether I’m still at the Institute then or not, is more racial diversity across the board. That was the one thing I noticed clearly last year, even amidst the blur, and it was still glaring this year as well. Considering that the event was not limited to Dana-Farber patients and that word was disseminated through various means, it remains a point of curiosity to me why there weren’t more women of colour — particularly African Americans, who are more prone to developing breast cancer earlier than other groups — in attendance. The reasons could range from awareness to logistics; I will not go into the nuances of each. Considering the U.S.’ known health disparities, especially here in Boston, it would be wonderful (and is necessary) to have more minorities present at such gatherings to contribute their voices and benefit from the education and community. As someone who hails from a nation with far less robust healthcare systems, I daily marvel at the variety of resources my workplace has to offer and sorely wish all cancer patients and caregivers in lacking environments could access similar specialised services.
So, friends, there is still plenty of work to be done! We continue.
I am not a spokesperson for Dana-Farber or for the Young and Strong Program, so this is not an official report on the day. For more information about the young women’s breast cancer program at Dana-Farber, visit the website or contact email@example.com.