Contributed by Jennifer DiSalvio, first-time AllyCon national conference attendee
Two words that changed my life were spoken to me in August of 2019 over the phone. “It’s cancer,” my surgeon told me. The following year I heard two more life-changing words: “It’s back.” Most recently the two words that impacted me profoundly were “Welcome Home.”
They were posted on a big blue sign at the entrance of the Philadelphia Marriott Hotel, greeting attendees of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance’s national conference, AllyCon. I had no idea when I saw that sign just how much I would feel “welcomed” and “at home.”
I loved everything about AllyCon. From the sea of blue shirts, to the smiles, to the presentations, and yes, the hugs! Everyone was ready with a friendly face and care in their eyes.
Jennifer and AllyCon’s keynote speaker, CRC survivor and polar adventurer Eric Larsen
To be honest, I felt out of sorts at first. I had never traveled alone. I had never spoken to strangers about my cancer in person. I saw so many groups of people hanging out and laughing. It was clear that they knew each other, and I thought for sure I had made a mistake in coming. Before I could make a run for it, I was greeted by several people. Some names and faces I recognized from Facebook. And almost immediately, I was one of you. I was part of the blue family.
I didn’t realize how much I needed these in-person connections. They helped my mood, my outlook, and honestly, my soul. Before the trip, I was tired and drained and just sad all the time. I left with new friends, new tools to help me cope, and an optimistic feeling. I took pages of notes from the various presenters. I captured countless photos of myself with my new family. I danced and laughed and, even when I cried, I had support. All of this is priceless.
Jennifer meeting friends at AllyCon’s Funky Town 70s party
I can’t name names for fear that I will forget someone. But please know that I appreciate every single person that I met during AllyCon. Some of you sat with me when I was alone. Others called me over to join them — at dinner or on breaks or to dance! Many, many people took photos with me. When I broke down at the news of Jessica Buscho’s passing, someone I admired and looked up to, my blue family was there. I got hugs and tissues and love.
So thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance for putting this together. It has changed my life and made me a better advocate, not just for myself, but for others fighting this horrible disease. I can’t wait to see what I do next!
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