YSC Summit 2023: A Recap

Breast cancer doesn’t always look the same for everyone.

It doesn’t just look like someone’s grandma. It doesn’t just look like someone’s mom. It doesn’t just look like someone’s aunt. And it doesn’t just look like someone older.

Sometimes – 5% of the time, to be exact – breast cancer looks like your best friend, your sister, you.

While only 5% of all breast cancer occurs in women in their 20s and 30s, it’s too important of a number to ignore.

What is the YSC summit?

Over the past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Young Survival Coalition’s national summit, a conference where young women (originally diagnosed before the age of 40) met up to take workshops, find community, and make connections with other young survivors and thrivers who are still in active treatment or who have metastatic (stage 4) breast cancer.

This year’s summit was held in Charlotte, North Carolina from February 17–19, 2023.

There were three days of jam-packed learnings, fun, and inspirational conversations on topics related to breast cancer, like living your best and healthiest life and navigating the difficulties of treatment and recovery, both physically and mentally. But the best part of the YSC summit was getting to be surrounded by other women who’ve gone through breast cancer when they were young.

Photos of AYA breast cancer survivors and thrivers at the 2023 YSC summit

Who attended the YSC summit?

The YSC serves to help young women diagnosed by or before the age of 40, although many attendees were diagnosed on the tail end of that window (or a few years past it) when primarily diagnosed, so there was still a lot of variance in ages at the summit. The youngest breast cancer survivor in attendance was 21 years old, and the oldest (that I spoke to) was in her late 60s.

At the time of writing, I’m a few days shy of turning 29; I found my breast lump when I was 26; and I was officially diagnosed two weeks after turning 27 years old in 2021.

As a note, the YSC is celebrating its 25th anniversary, so some women who were once an AYA (adolescent and young adult) cancer patient may have graduated beyond the AYA distinction since their initial diagnosis – a blessing we all hope to achieve in our lives – but they still qualify as someone who was diagnosed when they were young. For example, If a woman was diagnosed in 1998 and she was 39 years old at that time, she would now be 64 years old (and still eligible to attend the conference).

Attendees from all walks of life relating to breast cancer were welcome to come:

  • Newly diagnosed (I.e. women currently undergoing active treatment)
  • Short-term survivors
  • Long-term survivors
  • Women living with metastatic (Stage 4) breast cancer (i.e. “thrivers”)
  • Co-survivors (e.g. spouses, parents, friends of survivors + thrivers)
  • Medical professionals and researchers

A group photo comprised of women from the Chicagoland chapter of the YSC

What sessions were offered at the YSC summit?

The YSC summit was three days long and consisted of informational, fun, inspirational, physical, and emotional sessions meant to apply to a wide range of issues unique to the AYA community of breast cancer survivors and thrivers. Here’s a short gist of what was offered over the three-day period, but if you’re looking for more information, like names of sessions, presenters, or times, you can view the full schedule of events online.

Friday’s offerings

General:

  • Registration, check-in, badge retrieval
  • A gathering for first-time summit attendees
  • Welcome session from CEO
  • Exhibitor room with booths

Catered to a specific group:

  • A half-day retreat for women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC)
  • Meet-ups for specific communities (e.g. early diagnosis, later diagnosis, those with children, etc.)
  • State and local leader meet-up

Specialty sessions:

  • Genetic testing
  • PTSD and growth after cancer
  • Early menopause (medically-induced)
  • Nutrition
  • Co-survivors + survivorship navigation with your survivor

Fun evening activities:

  • Game night
  • Pajama party

Saturday’s offerings

General:

  • Registration, check-in, badge retrieval
  • Exhibitor room with booths
  • Workout sessions
  • Sex, love, and reproductive health panel
  • The future of breast cancer panel
  • Onsite counseling sessions

Catered to a specific group:

  • Separate listening sessions for Latina, black, and LGBTQ survivors and thrivers
  • Practical matters for MBC thrivers
  • Medical updates for MBC thrivers
  • Journaling for co-survivors

Specialty sessions:

  • Sleep hygiene
  • Breast cancer resources
  • Anxiety reduction
  • Side effect management
  • Physical rehab
  • Fertility after diagnosis
  • Telling your authentic story

Fun evening activities:

  • Co-survivor happy hour
  • Dinner and dance party

Sunday’s offerings

General:

  • Workout sessions
  • Pet therapy
  • “Never Have I Ever”
  • Live podcast “Cancer for Breakfast”

Catered to a specific group:

  • Coping with adversity for MBC thrivers
  • Co-survivor support group

Specialty sessions:

  • Long-term survivorship
  • Parenting after breast cancer
  • Yoga
  • Lymphedema management

No evening sessions as the summit ended at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

What attending the YSC summit meant to me, a young survivor

While the initiation to such an exclusive club certainly does suck, it’s phenomenal to know an organization like YSC exists to serve an often overlooked population of women with breast cancer.

I joined the YSC as a member to find community among my peers who had breast cancer, too, and I’ve been able to find a wonderful group of women who know exactly what I went through and what I go through as a survivor. Since August of 2022, I’ve been a Face-to-Face Coordinator for the Chicago chapter of the YSC. I coordinate in-person events for our local chapter, and my goal is to try to host one event every other month (if not more frequently).

Having a community of peers who just get it is so important to me, and I know my fellow survivors and thrivers would say the same.

Until next year!

Some members of the Chicagoland chapter of the YSC

Hockey Fights Cancer

Hockey Fights Cancer: Walking the Purple Carpet 💜

Last Thursday (11/03/2022), I got to take part in the Chicago Blackhawks’ Hockey Fights Cancer celebration at the United Center and walk the purple carpet.

The National Hockey League (NHL) commemorates Hockey Fights Cancer month every November, which celebrates survivors and thrivers and honors those who have passed away from cancer (all types).

This was my second year walking the purple carpet, but my first as a breast cancer survivor.

When I walked last year, I was in the midst of treatment. It was late November 2021, and I had just finished radiation, which was the fourth step in my five-step treatment plan: IVF + oocyte retrieval, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and immunotherapy. While I had already been declared no evidence of disease (NED) after my surgical pathology report came back in September of 2021, it was weird for me to call myself a “survivor” while I was still in active treatment. So this year I was able to call myself a survivor and actually feel like one six months out of active treatment.

Rebecca Reynoso walks the Purple Carpet for the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Fights Cancer night

While lining up to walk the carpet, I met a few other wonderful women who have also either battled or are going through treatment for breast cancer currently, and we got to exchange numbers and connect with each other. There were all types of cancer patients in line: children and teens, adult women and men, and so many types of cancer were represented. Even so, I was the only 20-something in the line. Everyone was either a child, teen, or 40+ years old (as cancer patients tend to be).

Although being the only person your age can feel isolating, I was happy that the Blackhawks shared my story with the attendees. I wrote this in my intro paragraph (that they read aloud as I walked the carpet):

Rebecca was diagnosed with HER-2 positive, Stage 2B breast cancer (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma) in March of 2021, 10 days after turning 27 years old. She endured 13 months of intensive treatment, including IVF and egg retrieval surgery, 6 rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy surgery, 33 rounds of radiation, and 11 targeted therapy HER2+ infusions. She finished all treatment in April of 2022 and has been declared no evidence of disease (NED) since undergoing a successful treatment plan with a positive response to chemo and surgery.

Rebecca runs a website, CandidlyCancer.com, which aims to help newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients and educate people about women diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 30. She also works as a mentor to newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients with Imerman Angels and is the volunteer events coordinator for the Young Survival Coalition of Chicago.

While having cancer isn’t a club anyone wants to be a part of, there are truly some incredible people you’ll encounter along the way who understand what you’ve gone through in a way nobody else truly can. I’m so blessed to have had this opportunity and so grateful to my favorite team for the best sport in the world for sharing my story and the stories of so many others affected by cancer.

Thank you again to the Blackhawks, the NHL, and for my forever supporters, Cindy (my mom) and Alen (my bf) for coming out to celebrate with me and see the Hawks win a hell of a game!

Here are a few snapshots of the evening:

  • Cindy and Alen look on at the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Fights Cancer Purple Carpet walk

Announcement: I’ve Joined Young Survival Coalition in a Volunteer Leadership Role

I’m excited to announce that as of September 1st, 2022, I’ve become Co-Coordinator for the Chicago outlet of the Young Survival Coalition!

For those of you who don’t know, Young Survival Coalition is an organization geared toward providing support and community for young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer before age 40.

As an individual who was diagnosed fewer than two weeks after I turned 27, this organization’s mission is incredibly important to me and aligns with why I created Candidly Cancer in the first place. The statistics behind breast cancer in women younger than 40 shows the need for a community like YSC.

Breast cancer in young women has historically been underrepresented in most discussions surrounding “who” gets breast cancer. While cancer at any age takes a toll on the bodies and minds of the people affected, young women face higher chances of being diagnosed with more aggressive cancers, receiving less funding and research toward how young adults are affected by breast cancer, greater financial and relationship stability concerns, and longstanding issues with body image and mental health.

Since 1998, Young Survival Coalition has grown from a single group out of NYC to an international nonprofit with over 170 local Face 2 Face networking groups (one for which I am now a co-coordinator), an online community, and a conference specifically geared toward young women who have breast cancer.

As a Coordinator for the YSC Chicago F2F network, my responsibilities include planning events for our local chapter so other young women who are either going through treatment or have previously gone through treatment for breast cancer have opportunities to meet face-to-face, get to know each other, grow a community, and build friendships!

I’ve always had an affinity for event planning and coordination; now I get to do it for other young cancer survivors and thrivers. All this is to say: I am so thrilled to be the newest Face 2 Face Coordinator for the YSC Chicago F2F network, and I’m happy to be able to volunteer my time and event coordination leadership skills to such a wonderful organization.

Want to help YSC and young survivors or thrivers like me? Donate to YSC today.