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Cancer Support Community for Young Women Redefines "Support Group"

Enthusiasm and friendship are growing this newly rebuilt Young Survival Coalition cancer support community

support for cancer survivors

After 20 years, the Young Survival Coalition is nationally known as a supportive, engaged cancer support community for women diagnosed with breast cancer before age 40. It hosts large-scale conferences, puts on regional Tour de Pink cycling events, and advocates for young women at every level of research and health legislation.

But when you zoom in and focus the lens on local chapters, you find the real heart of the organization – friendships that “get it.”

One such chapter is being rebuilt from the ground up, largely thanks to Susan “Sooz” Stevens, a 2-year breast cancer survivor who lives in Utah. She became interested in making local connections after she attended the annual YSC Summit conference in early 2017.

“I knew there were other local young survivors like myself, who were needing support,” she recalls. “And I didn’t want anyone to feel alone or isolated, like I did when I was in active treatment.” She also knew that something about the stereotypical breast cancer support group wasn’t quite right for her demographic.

“I wanted the group to help connect women to services and resources, of course, but also to provide a social aspect that I think is less prevalent in other groups.”

Creating a supportive cancer community with heart

One of the chapter’s members, Heather Anderson, echoes that sentiment: “My vision of a support group, before I met with YSC, was sitting in a circle exchanging sad stories the whole time.” It’s not exactly uplifting. The Utah chapter, instead, plans events and outings that women at every stage can get excited about.

Their very first gathering was in June of 2017. “We had four members and met in a local café for drinks and desserts. We were small but mighty!” Sooz shares. Since that time, the chapter has grown to at least 50 members, with attendance hovering around 15 for each month’s activity. Their calendar has included:

  • Painting pottery at an art studio
  • Service activities like building chemo care kits for current patients
  • A “Brunch and Learn” with Amoena post mastectomy products to touch and feel 
  • Presentation by a sex therapist, answering questions about fertility and intimacy after cancer
  • Dinners at restaurants around town

Secret to support group success

Members agree that what makes it work is the deep, personal level of understanding that they can’t get with other friends or even family. “There’s an unspoken sense of strength that comes from being in a room of women who have known real struggle,” Sooz says. “We’re able to normalize our feelings, surrounded by women who get it – it’s empowering.”

It’s also, very simply, a whole lot of fun.

If you haven’t yet found a breast cancer support community in your local area, here are some resources that might help: Breast Cancer Support Groups.