The 17th Annual Breast Cancer Conference happens on Friday, October 10 at the Sheraton in Burlington. Join us to discuss choices and voices in breast and women’s health! You can follow along and participate in the conversation by following the UVM Medical Center Health on Twitter at twitter.com/UVMMedCenter and using the Twitter hashtag #vtbcc.

180405045Two years ago I attended the Vermont Cancer Center’s Breast Cancer Conference with the personal knowledge that I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was awaiting my surgery date and had little information about what treatment path I had ahead.

Sitting in this room having lunch, I felt like a fly on the wall. The prospect of having cancer again felt so unreal. My first cancer was in 1997 and I had been a “long term survivor.” What was happening to that status?

However, I was calmed by the sea of smiling faces that afternoon at the Breast Cancer Conference. I was seeing many rooms full of people who had been through this cancer journey, and they were gathering information to help them fully engage in this next phase of life. I believed that I would be in that position in the next year. And I was.

The following year — 2013 — I was back attending and presenting at this conference; now as a member of this sisterhood, a club I never wanted to join. But, I am all the better for this experience.

I heard a quotation once: “Cancer may leave my body but it will never leave my life.” Those words were not welcomed by me. I did not want cancer to dominate my life and, over the years, I have seen that cancer educates me. It reminds me to take the time to engage with good friends, to express love fully, to be thankful for the small and large experiences of life.

I am fortunate to have my dream job. I work as a clinical psychologist in the Vermont Cancer Center. I talk to people touched by cancer every day. For many, this may sound difficult and, believe me, at times it is however, I feel honored to be part of another person’s support team.

My cancer taught me that I cannot do this alone. I encourage you to gather your supports, participate in events to help educate and support you through this cancer experience. Cancer is as much an emotional experience as a physical one. Know that each of us can learn from another person touched by cancer and that we have information that can help someone else.

The Breast Cancer Conference has been a gift to me at a time of true struggle; I hope it can provide you with the same understanding that you are not alone.

Kathy McBeth, PSYCH-MA, is a psychologist with the Cancer Patient Support Program. She is also co-chair of the 2014 Breast Cancer Conference.

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