Geoff Eaton is Executive Director of Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC), a registered charity whose mission is to build a community of young adults diagnosed with cancer that provides information, support, skills, and opportunity. His path to the job was of the highest sort – he lived the experience.
“I was six months out of university in 1998 when I was diagnosed with leukemia. It was a week before I turned 23. And I did the assessment of where I was in my life, what my goals were, and how I was going to realize them. (After the diagnosis, this assessment was very different than it would’ve been prior!) My goals when I was diagnosed were: Number One – to live. Number Two – to learn the lessons from this experience that I’d now been presented with. Number Three, since I believe – no, I now know to my bone marrow – that everything happens for the right reason, part of my task was to figure out the reason. That reason is why YACC is here: to share my experience. I decided to share my cancer experience as I was going through it.
“I began what we now call a blog, but that meant an email group because in 1998 a blog did not exist! So an email group of friends and family was created out of my desire to share what I was going to go through, and out of my need to connect with others. Technology provided an essential bridge for those two desires. Because of my chemotherapy and my type of disease, it meant I was in isolation for most of the time, so I wasn’t able to see friends, see my buddies, in case I caught a flu or a virus. Other times I’d be in hospital for a month and I wouldn’t see people outside a core group of family, so email allowed me to stay connected.
“A year and a half later, after four rounds of chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant from my dad, and one month in ICU on life support due to an infection, I got in my Hickman catheter a set of longer-term intravenous lines to take blood for tests and supply meds to my system more easily. I had to rebuild a lot; I had to learn to walk again – really had to rebuild from the basement. I had been emailing the whole time, and my dad had been keeping it up while I was in ICU, and I wanted to keep that group going and reach out to others. This became YACC.
“Part of that, starting out, was my experiences. But as YACC grew it’s now about the voices, experience, and wisdom of young adult survivors all across the country. In 2004 we revamped our web presence to really focus on diversification of experiences and stories and wisdom. So ever since ’04, our site has become a growing hub for survivors who are young adults to connect with other survivors who are young adults.”