“ Remember you are not alone. Although a cancer diagnosis is isolating, there are lots of resources out there and you can connect with other survivors that have had similar experiences.
Alli Ward is a very active mAss Kicker! She is the Vice President of Programs and Development at Stupid Cancer, a proud alumni of First Descents, and the creator of Allipalooza. Her work experience at T. Rowe Price and York International combined with her passion for cancer advocacy makes her a very powerful voice in the young adult cancer world! She is currently leading the efforts for the 2014 OMG Cancer Summit for Young Adult Survivors! We very very fortune to find time in her schedule to ask some unique questions.
mK: Thanks Alli! We know you are really busy! What/ when was your diagnosis?
AW: I was diagnosed with stage IV Ovarian Cancer in July 2007
mK: What were your symptoms?
AW: I was experiencing pain, weight gain, bloating and cramps. Initially I thought this was just normal woman stuff. Ovarian cancer is often call the silent cancer and has little symptoms and many woman are diagnosed at advanced stages.
mK: Why did you get involved with advocacy? What movements are you involved with?
AW: As I was going through treatment I didn’t meet another young adult patient. I was sent to a support group that was mostly women 20 years older than me and they had such different issues that I felt that no one could understand what I was going through. I found few resources for young adults and almost no resources for young adults with advanced disease. I blogged during my treatment and after to help bring awareness to the issues of young adult cancer survivors.
I have been involved with First Descents, Imerman Angels, Solo Survivors, and Stupid Cancer. In 2011, Matthew Zachary, the founder of Stupid Cancer asked me to chair the Steering Committee for the OMG! Cancer Summit for Young Adults. This gave me the perfect opportunity to use my skills as both a social worker and business analyst and help plan an awesome conference for 550 young adults, caregivers and advocates affected by cancer. In 2012, I was given the opportunity to work full time for this awesome organization as the VP of Programs and be in charge of the OMG Summit.
mK: We are excited for it every year! Who is your hero or heroes?
AW: I don’t know if I have one hero. I have met so many men and women that have been through the unthinkable and have surpassed their diagnosis. Some of the people that inspire me on a daily basis are those that continue to have struggles, but don’t let it stop them and still get busy living.
mK: What motivates you?
AW: There are two main reasons I get up every day. First is because I won’t let cancer win or beat me down. I am going to enjoy life in every way I can and cancer will not stop me. The other reason is the 72,000 young adults that get diagnosed every year. I don’t want any of them to feel as alone as I did.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
AW: Four years after I was diagnosed, I when to a First Descents camp. First Descents provides adventure therapy camps for young adults with cancer. During that week of white water kayaking in Glacier National Park in Montana I realized that cancer did not have to take away my enjoyment in life and I was not a burden on the people in my life. I might have walked with a cane and needed help walking to and from the water, but I was giving the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors like I used to and more importantly, it was time to get out of my “Laz-y-boy” and start living again.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
AW: I laugh constantly. My friends and co-workers probably think the brain tumors have fried my brain. It might be corny, but even the smallest things like stupid YouTube videos make me laugh. On the first side, cancer is probably the thing that makes by cry and the most angry. I am outraged every time one of my friends has a bad test result or has a recurrence. I curse at cancer when another young adult passes away from this disease.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
AW: This is a tough question. I have been so lucky to be able to have so many incredible adventures. Probably the most interesting and challenging at the same time was an adventure I call Allipalooza. In 2011 I challenge myself to go on a journey about finding out who I was after cancer. I designed a logo, came up with a tagline “Exploration, Challenge & adventure to the Core of Discovery”. That year I put myself out of my comfort zone and tried many new things and reflected on where I wanted to go in life. One of the most notable times was when I rented a camper van and drove solo around the southwest and visited national parks. I had to rely on myself the whole way and I learned a lot of lessons that trip. I blogged during my time on Allipalooza
mK: You need to venture outside your comfort zone to evolve. What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
AW: The toughest challenge had to be my First Descent trip. I had to get out of my head and let myself go with the flow (pun intended). Paddling down the river in white water challenge allowed me to let go all of the stories I told myself about not being able to doing any worthwhile again. That day I stopped being a victim and started thriving.
mK: OK, we gotta know… What is your guilty pleasure?
AW: I have two. The first is starbucks. I go almost everyday and they know me well at my local store. The second is socks. In 2011, I decided that life was too short to wear boring socks and started to collect socks that were mismatched, have toes, crazy designs and bright colors. I currently have over 150 pairs of crazy socks and have not worn a pair of boring plain socks in over 2 years.
mK: Stupid Cancer people sure do spend a lot of time in Las Vegas! hee hee hee… What are your 3 favorite things to do in Vegas?
AW: The 7th Annual OMG Cancer Summit will be in Vegas this year and has so many great things to do. My 3 favorite things are:
#3: party at the Ghost Bar on the roof of the Palms Casino and celebrate with my fellow survivors. #2 is to eat the crispy rice rolls at Simons Restaurant and #1 see old friends and meet new awesome survivors at the Summit.
mK: No mention of the buffets or $5 steaks? What do you like to do in your spare time?
AW: I love to cook, listen to music, travel (which I do a lot), outdoor activities including kayaking and hiking.
mK: What are you up to now?
AW: I am the VP of Programs for Stupid Cancer. I have the awesome job of planning programs; conferences, boot camps and the OMG Cancer Summit. Somehow I lucked into getting paid for helping other young adults with cancer.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
AW: Remember you are not alone. Although a cancer diagnosis is isolating, there are lots of resources out there (lots can be found at Stupidcancer.org) and you can connect with other survivors that have had similar experiences.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
AW: I went to culinary school and used to foster Golden Retrievers.
mK: Very different from what you are doing now! Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
AW: Remember that you are more than your diagnosis. You do not have to define yourself as a cancer patient, but as a strong cancer fighter.
Alli Ward: Starbucks addict, the “sock-burgler” (rubble rubble), culinary genius, golden retriever rescuer, and Stupid Cancer leader. Thanks for spending time with us Alli! We’re looking forward to seeing you in Vegas! Be sure to visit the Stupid Cancer website for more information about OMG! Cancer Summit for Young Adults!