A re­luc­tant mem­ber­ship in “the Can­cer Club.”

Stephanie Gil­man dis­cov­ers that there are a few perks to be­ing in the “Can­cer Club.”

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - By Stephanie Gil­man

irecently at­tended a work-re­lated con­fer­ence on young-adult (YA) can­cer. I was there rep­re­sent­ing Re­think Breast Can­cer, an or­ga­ni­za­tion for which I am the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing co­or­di­na­tor, but I also have a per­sonal in­ter­est: I am a young per­son who had can­cer. The CancerCon con­fer­ence was put on by Stupid Can­cer, a non-profit group that brings aware­ness to young adults who have had the dis­ease. This was my first real ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing sur­rounded by hun­dreds of oth­ers who had (or, for many, are cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing) can­cer in their 20s and 30s.

Be­ing thrust into that some­what-in­tense en­vi­ron­ment brought to light my bur­geon­ing iden­tity cri­sis. Do I fit in with this group? Do I even want to fit in? Are these “my peo­ple”? I ex­pe­ri­enced one of these ex­is­ten­tial mo­ments dur­ing a lunch break. Some of the ta­bles in the room were re­served for at­ten­dees who work in the YA can­cer field, while oth­ers were la­belled ac­cord­ing to the type of can­cer the table­mates had ex­pe­ri­enced. At first I wasn’t sure which ta­ble to choose, but then I de­cided to sit at the one re­served for breast-can­cer pa­tients.

“Hey, breast can­cer, whaddup?” I ex­claimed as I took my seat, of­fer­ing an awk­ward greet­ing in an al­readyawk­ward sit­u­a­tion. Although it’s com­fort­ing to know that we shared a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, I also felt a strange pres­sure, like I had to talk about can­cer. I imag­ine the leukemia gang at the ta­ble be­side us felt the same way. We may have lived through the same aw­ful dis­ease, but that doesn’t mean we have other things in com­mon. Truth be told, I would have been more com­fort­able at the “Fans of The Bach­e­lor” ta­ble or the “Cheese Lovers” ta­ble, if ei­ther had been an op­tion.

I ex­pe­ri­enced this same push and pull dur­ing some of the break­out ses­sions that ex­plored in­ti­macy, fer­til­ity and sur­vivor­ship is­sues. Nu­mer­ous times I found my­self nod­ding my head in agree­ment as I lis­tened to oth­ers com­ment about the long-term side ef­fects of their treat­ments or how can­cer has af­fected their re­la­tion­ships. I also un­der­stood what they meant when they said that they suf­fered from on­go­ing fear and anx­i­ety. #beenthere

But as more peo­ple shared their per­sonal anec­dotes, and com­mu­nal tears were shed, I found that I didn’t feel like par­tak­ing in the group bond­ing any­more. In fact, I wanted to run through the doors and go back to my post as “pro­fes­sional at­tend­ing a con­fer­ence” and shed my can­cer cloak. I didn’t feel like hear­ing peo­ple cry, and I didn’t want to cry with them. As much as I am un­de­ni­ably a mem­ber of the “Can­cer Club,” there are mo­ments when I just want to es­cape that la­bel. Some­times I just want to be me—who­ever that is.

Back at the Re­think booth, where I was talk­ing to peo­ple about our work, a few can­cer pa­tients ap­proached the ta­ble and be­gan to watch a video that was play­ing in which I of­fer chemo-treat­ment tips. One of the girls did a dou­ble take when she saw that I was the per­son fea­tured in the video.

“Ohmigod, that’s you! That’s so cool!” She and her friends were giddy when they re­al­ized that I was an un­der­cover can­cer pa­tient who was, in fact, just like them. I had mor­phed into some­one they could rec­og­nize and re­late to. It felt good to be able to in­spire them in some small way and make them feel less iso­lated—let them know I was part of their club, de­spite the fact that I was stand­ing on the op­po­site side of the ta­ble.

And per­haps that’s the key: Maybe it’s about me be­ing able to play mul­ti­ple roles at once and not let any one trait, or ex­pe­ri­ence, de­fine me. I am a wife, a daugh­ter, a sis­ter, a col­league and a friend. I am strong, funny, smart, quirky and kind. I am so many things—with just a lit­tle can­cer on the side. n

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