My CancerCon Experience
May 21, 2015
By: Steve Heaviside
When I was first diagnosed with testicular cancer in December 2013, I was dismissive of the idea of a support group. It seemed like a phony TV drama idea that wouldn’t even begin to help get me through the difficult heartache and mental roller coaster I was experiencing. In the span of seven months, I had lost my grandfather to leukemia, a cousin to ovarian cancer and now I had cancer. My girlfriend had just broken things off shortly before my diagnosis and the diagnosis didn’t bring her back. My cancer was supposedly “one of the good ones to get” but at that point, I felt like the unluckiest, loneliest soul in the universe.
When I was going through chemo in the spring of 2014, I realized that I had a great support system of family/friends who were there for me, but I felt like an astronaut; floating in a melting emotional outer space, unable to relate to everyone I’d ever known the same way again. Thankfully, the AYA program at USC introduced me to some resources and during chemo, I attended my first Stupid Cancer meet-up. This led to friendships with other survivors and eventually, it led to “So, do you think you’ll go to CancerCon?”
I can’t do CancerCon justice with a million words, let alone a few hundred. Those days in Denver were three of the most rewarding, most important and most fun days of my life. Here I was, revealing the most painful, personal details of my life to people I had known for mere hours, in a city I’d never been to before, and feeling totally at ease. There aren’t too many feelings in the world better than feeling comfortable in your own skin and connecting with someone who truly understands you. I was my most authentic self and in return, I received nothing but genuine love, support and friendship from some truly amazing people. I didn’t have to downplay or censor my story. Nobody asked me if everything was “back to normal yet”. I could share laughs with a fellow survivor about chemo brain and not worry that I was bringing the mood in the room down by mentioning side effects from chemo and cancer that still affect me daily. Suddenly, this thing that once made me feel so alone and damaged now connected me to a whole team of brave, hilarious, inspiring, beautiful people.
When I arrived home, I had a bit of an emotional crash. I won’t see most of these wonderful new friends for another whole year? But then I’d think of something from the weekend and laugh, or cry (or both). Then I’d remind myself that all these new friends were a click away on social media where I can check in on their lives and root for them. I know they’re out there doing their thing and rooting for me, too. I’m now part of a community I never expected to join, but I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it.