Whenever I hear a group of advocates says “I found my tribe” I smile cause that is the best feeling. Then I think who the hell is my tribe? I have so many breast cancer connections that I often find comfort there. But is that my tribe? That feeling of “oh my gwad they truly understand”. Sure they are my breasties that I would be lost without that is factual. See, I was always the one that had such an array of friends I did not know which group was really mine. Yeah I hung with the jocks thanks to my BFF Alissa, hung with the stoners thanks to my HS boyfriend and the preppy crew, and even hung with the smarties. I never had a tribe I just had people. The same thing happened in my adult pre-stupid dumb breast cancer life, I love to just have an enormous group of peeps around me. Then I was diagnosed with cancer….dun dun dun. I realized fast who would be there, who would cheer me on and who would leave. Honestly, at the time, I was pissed but now I get it and it actually helped me. My large circle got smaller and I needed that.
As an advocate, you look for those who understand your mission, believe in the cause and want change. So clearly I could find some in the breast cancer community. Like all other advocacy, the BC people divide up by type, stage, and even gender. Fran,kly, it was confusing to me I am a team player and if I wanted in on the Triple Neg awareness why the hell not? But nonetheless there is a divide but I still found my people there. We waant real education, real change, and reality checks. I love that!
Then one year my very dear friend Jen from Booby and the Beast told me to apply for HealthEvoices. What the hell is that? I have been to YSC and LBBC aren’t I supposed to stay with my people? But I thought “shit sure I will apply”. I had no idea what to expect none. But Jen was going to be there and I got to meet Uzma, Brandy and Claudia so win win. That year I arrived and meet Marisa striaght away and it was really amazing to connect with her because she was doing such great things in Lupus but I do not have that so I thought no big deal so far. I also forgot to pack underwear but that is a different blog post I suppose. Bonus was I found fast was that the Janssen and the Tonic team put so much heart into conference it is impossible to not feel the love they are spilling for us. They care which really made a difference to me. I never once felt anything other than that.
Opening ceremonies I sat in the front with Marissa , I was so eager to hear Jen speak! I was quickly immersed into the stories being told from the HIV, IBD and many other communities. I remember thinking “WOW there is advocacy all over” And then Chrisa got on stage and she started to speak. She talked about her son who is schizophrenic and what it was like raising him and being his caretaker. She said something that I’ll never ever forget.“Why is it OK and acceptable to give our child chemotherapy if they’re going through cancer. But if a child has a mental illness we all gravel and are shocked when we want to give them medicine“. I sat there sobbing not because of her son but because at that time my son was going through his own mental health issues and we were debating whether to put him on medication. And I thought “she gets me she understands what I’m going through”. We’ve been friends ever since and she added me to an amazing Facebook group. What a connection that was?
Then I applied the following year I thought shoot I had such a great time I would try again. I did not think I would be accepted but I was and I was so freaking happy. I was also there with Wisdo doing videos so it was double fun. And double the amount out of work- I was wearing about three different hats that year. So that was the year that I was told that I had MS. Truth is I hadn’t really told many people I guess mostly because I didn’t want to admit it -stupid dumb MS. Then I met this guy Dave and he was so full of life, so vibrant and freaking hilarious. He was also in a wheelchair advocating for MS and I was in awe. I thought holy pins and needles I am going to get through this shit show. So I went up to him and I said “hi my name is Annmarie usually blog for breast cancer. But I want you know that I have a MS” He said something on the lines of “well that sucks”. I thought this is my guy I love this dude. And we been friends ever since. Together we grow!
So it brings me to this year in this very long post that you probably haven’t even gotten to the end of them are wondering why she wrote it so long. I couldn’t have been more thrilled to go and the anticipation was already leading up to it. Everybody was messaging each other and we couldn’t wait to be around one another. The year before I connected with Michelle mostly because she sat next to me during open mic night and crack jokes. She has an extremely inappropriate sense of humor which of course I gravitated towards. So I couldn’t wait to see her. The cancer community is not just BC which is pretty freaking awesome too because I may have never met my little brother Kyle who runs Check 15. See I was supposed to go to the Cancer Summit and I ended up in the mental health summit which was fine but it made me think. I watched the Twitter feed and the Instagram feed and saw all the pictures of the different groups together -the RA, diabetes and IBD and many many. I sort of suck for not naming all the advocates, so do not be an ass check the link to HEV and read some!
And I had a revelation. Honestly it brought me to tears. I don’t have RA and I don’t have diabetes I don’t have a lBD and I’m not HIV positive. I am a hot ass mess yes but with MS and breast cancer and a whole lot of mental health. But the truth is I am a part of all those groups even the ones of illnesses I don’t have. This is my tribe. It brought me to tears and I don’t cry easily so you know I had to be serious. Being a part of healthy voices and what Janseen has created is unbelievable to me and I am so thankful to them, they care I swear they do. I miss them come Monday when the conference is over, I worry that they are ok. I miss our selfie‘s and our laughs. And our extremely inappropriate humor sense of humor. Gabe Howard my have seen that I do not have nipples it was educational even though it possibly made a few uncomfortable...ummmm the other Gabe. Doesn’t matter that we don’t all share the same illness or nipples or testicles. what matters is that were advocating for a change and for people to understand us. I have to say that I’m sick of preaching to the breast cancer choir they’ve heard it they know it and they’ve lived it. It’s time to preach outside my circle they have them understand what I’m going through. At a conference like this I can connect with advocates for each other but I walked away with new friends I walked away with people that I consider my family. I walked away knowing that these people advocate not just for me but with me. Knowing that if I looked like I wa sin pain at 1am they check, Rachel.
When you ask me who is my tribe is this is them! They are eclectic, they are amazing and they are empowering. They are there is you have a PTSD break down if you have and sister with cancer, if you need to talk about sex or lack of and most of all you do not have to pretend with them or share a late night pizza. It has been an amazing few years with this group of misfits and I have been honored to be a part. And they like me they really like me!!! The bonus NONE of them will take my tiara well maybe Robert.