Friday, January 28, 2011

What Attending the 2011 Joining FORCE's Conference Can Mean

FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered): About Us

The video about the Joining FORCE's Annual Conference shows so many important reasons to attend. This coming year will be my third time attending.

The first year I went, I really needed the affirmation that I did the correct thing. I had gotten the results of my being BRCA2 positive back in 1996. I had genetic counseling. It is so very important to get that. I was given sort of a road-map to what the future would encompass as far as my BRCA status. My choices were varied: from surveillance to surgery. In 2007, I opted to go the whole 9 yards and have a Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy (PBM). Since I had so many problems along the way with the PBM, I needed to feel that I made the right decision. I had lost the left implant in August of that year and in 2008 I got to go to the Conference. During the intervening time period, I posted on the message boards and in the chat room at FORCE and joined the local Outreach Group.

Quite honestly, I felt pretty beat up! I was cancer-free but feeling very let down by my body. But being surrounded by other women who had traveled the same road gave me my affirmation. I met several women with whom I had only communicated over the Internet or by phone. By taking the time to attend the Conference, I felt the impetus to go back to Philadelphia and get the word out about FORCE and the BRCA Community. I learned more about the genetic mutation that put me and my family at the increased risk. I also got to view the then unreleased movie, "In the Family". Several of us sat in the back of the room and just cried. Joanna Rudnick, the producer and star of the documentary was there and I was so proud of how FORCE helped to make this film a success.

I also met another FORCE member who befriended me was Diane Tropea Greene. She is the author of "Apron Strings: Inheriting Courage, Wisdom and . . . Breast Cancer". She and I "met" on the FORCE message boards and she and one of her sisters attended the Conference and she signed her book. What an inspiration. This is such a good read; you laugh and cry and I found myself nodding my head at so many shared instances in life.

The second year I attended the Conference, it was moved from its original site in Tampa to Orlando, FL. The attendance had grown from about 250 to 500! I felt honored to again be selected to receive a scholarship to attend. I went with one of my close friends who happens to carry the BRCA1 gene mutation and also has had Breast Cancer affect her family. We learned even more at this Conference. The biggest part was growing the Outreach Group in Philadelphia, volunteering opportunities and again, feeling like I belonged to a group that understood my decisions.

At each Conference, there is a "Show and Tell" room, just like we have at most local meetings. Only this years' room was spread into at least 3 rooms. Each woman shows off her mastectomy along with her reconstruction or lack thereof. The year before I had gone there with one implant and one skin flap where the other had been. This time I had a completed set! We shared, showed and commiserated. Other women were given the opportunity to ask questions about different kinds of surgeries, procedures and end products. Not every set was perfect and we wore our scars with pride! It felt kind of strange, walking around with my top off, getting "felt" by other people, and talking honestly and openly about BRCA and my PBM. I almost went downstairs to the main floor of the suite without my t shirt! Good thing I was stopped on the stairs.

Again, I got to meet with others not only from the FORCE website but also from the Facebook pages as well. Sounds trite, but it IS good to put faces to names. I caught up with old friends and met many new ones. I learned some very good points at this Conference, different from the last. Each year there are always new sessions and I tried to attend them. I found out that I like to write and Kathy Steligo, author of "The Breast Reconstruction Guidebook", conducted a very intense session on writing.

One of the highlights of the Conference for me is the Saturday Morning Round Table Discussion. Each speaker has a table, obviously, and makes themselves available for a question and answer session. It is so wonderful to get more in-depth with the most knowledgeable people in their field.

I am hoping to get another scholarship this year and go again. New discussions are waiting! I also am very interested in learning more about fundraising on behalf of FORCE. I do what I can but I know there is so much more. I want to find out about getting FORCE's name and mission out there in the public eye. The BRCA gene mutation is so very misunderstood, by laypeople as well as professionals. If I can change my area of the world, then I feel I have done my part. If I can reach out to just one person and ease their mind about their BRCA status or impending surgery, then I have accomplished more than what I hope.

Love and hugs,

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