Featured MassKicker

Amber Vance

People often receive advice/multiple quotes for kitchen remodels, shopping for vehicles or even new shoes- but hesitate to do the same regarding life. You deserve the same approach with a diagnosis/protocol.

Amber Vance is another active mAss Kicker.  She currently works for a pharmaceutical company in North Carolina and is very active in the young adult cancer advocacy movement.  She is very active in the cancer community through First Descents, Stupid Cancer, and the NC Cancer Hospital Patient and Family Advisory Board and the Action Committee of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at the University of North Carolia, Lineberger Cancer Center.  We met her at a conference a few years ago and were impressed with her drive in the AYA (Adolescent and Young Adult) survivor movement.  We caught up with her recently, and asked her some questions.

mK:  Thanks for doing this Amber!  What/ when was your diagnosis?  How did you find out about your diagnosis?
AV:  I was diagnosed in 2003 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  I had moved to NC after graduating from university and started my first job.   3 years in, I was diagnosed.

mK:  What were your symptoms?
AV:  I was rarely sick growing up. During my senior year in college I frequented the ENT’s office.   The monthly visits led to nearly 5 years of unexplained ear infections and tonsillitis as I moved through 3 states.  About a year out from diagnosis I struggled with masses that started on one side of my neck, progressed to both sides and down through my chest.  I experienced an occasional I-must’ve-been-on-a-rain-hike night sweat, 20+ hour naps, and towards the end had problems breathing and speaking.  It looks so much more dramatic in print.

mK: Some serious stuff, but you got through it!  Why did you get involved with advocacy?  What do you do?
AV:  After finishing treatment, I distanced myself from the oncology realm.  A year post remission, I was asked to mentor a young woman who was diagnosed at the same cancer center.   The opportunity to help someone else gave some semblance of purpose to the mountain I had climbed and been carried up.  That partnership led to many more connections.  The realization that a gap existed between readily available resources AND young adults who needed them lit the flame of the YA advocate inside me.  After moving to Raleigh, I was introduced to Stupid Cancer.  I currently volunteer for the NC contingent, helping to set up monthly meetups while liaising with cancer centers and universities.

I was fortunate to be asked to represent young adults on the NC Cancer Hospital Patient and Family Advisory Board a year ago and continue to serve.

mK: Cool!  Everyone gets involved when they are ready.  You’re doing some cool stuff!  Who are your personal heroes?
AV: Anyone who supports and loves someone through a challenging time.  To watch someone struggle, grieve, or face adversity can be harder than experiencing it yourself.  To, at times, feel helpless yet remain alongside a friend, family member or complete stranger is the greatest gift of love.  I am constantly awed by the family and friends of YA survivors as well as those who commit their lives to working for many of the non-profits that make their lives so much more awesome.

mK: The family and friends that help us get through everything definitely deserve recognition!  What motivates you?
AV:  Individuals who encounter big and small challenges in life and exit more compassionate and authentic than where they started.

mK: Right!  When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
AV:   Good question.  Years ago, I would’ve answered ‘months after the end of treatment’.  But the truth is, it happened years later while on my 1st First Descents trip.  It was an incredible week, full of incredible people, experiences and moments that stretched what I believed was possible in the after-cancer chapter.

mK: There is definitely nothing like sharing a new adventure with someone.  What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
Laugh?  My friends are the quickest to stir up a gasping for air, gut laugh.
Cry? Low threshold for tear inducing news, videos or tunes.
Angry? People that are unkind…to others and animals

mK:  What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
AV:  Between my junior and senior year of college, I traveled through 9 countries with a cast of 120 from 23 different countries.  It changed how I viewed the world and my place in it, life changing.

mK:  What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor?  How did you overcome it?
AV:  One of the most common challenges faced by the demographic, delayed diagnosis.   After several appointments to primary care over 6 months with masses and classic lymphoma symptoms, I was being referred out to random specialties.  At one appointment, an endocrinologist said “exactly why were you referred here?”  I started crying, looked him in the eye and asked him to advocate for me.  I was tired.  I asked for help.

He helped change the trajectory of my care and within 4 months I was diagnosed.

mK: Yikes!  You are very lucky!  What is your guilty pleasure?
AV:  Year-round Christmas tunes, an occasional episode of the Biggest Loser and bubblegum pop (I won’t name one specific act, but at a certain beats-per-minute I’m hooked, regardless of lyrics).

I hear chocolate is a popular answer?  I feel no guilt partaking.

mK:  HAHAHA!  If you could domesticate any animal to be your pet, what would it be  and why?
AV:  A Pika.  I grew up in Florida learning about marine animals and those captured in science books.  I had no idea little rabbit-like animals that run around with bouquets of wildflowers in their mouths existed until visiting the Grand Tetons several years ago.  Floored and mesmerized. (You know you want to google them, go ahead.)

mK: I was thinking pokemon… OK, so it’s a rodent?  When you’re not doing your advocacy work, what do you like to do in your spare time?
AV:  Play outdoors, travel, spend time with family and friends, live like a tourist locally, find the next great adventure and incorporate music into all aforementioned.

mK: What are you up to now?
AV:  Prepping to visit my best (a person who has been a bright light in my life for the last 15 years), working on a few secret AYA projects, learning to climb, and striving to be more present.

mK: Cool.  Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
AV: At a minimum, bring someone you are super comfortable with to your appointments early on.   Have them take notes.  Wise advice someone gave me that I was super thankful for when emotions take over and your brain deletes entire conversations.

Second opinion.  People often receive advice/multiple quotes for kitchen remodels, shopping for vehicles or even new shoes- but hesitate to do the same regarding life.  You deserve the same approach with a diagnosis/protocol.

Allow people to do kind things for you.

After an “I’m-fine-I’m-okay-I-can-do-it” session, my good friend said, “You know that feeling that you get when you do kind things for others? You’re stealing that from me.”  Completely effective and I continue to use it almost weekly now.

mK: Great advice!  Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
AV:   I used to be extremely shy (shocking, I know).  My older sister did most of the speaking and I was her shadow.  It was after leaving for college that I found my voice.

mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
AV:  Breathe and be awesome.

Amber Vance:  a former “Jan Brady-little-sister”, pika lover, wanna-be-north pole-elf, world traveler, bubble gum pop music groupie, proactive young adult survivor advocate, and cool lady!  Thanks for doing this Amber.  We eagerly awaiting your “top secret” AYA projects.  Check out the  NC Cancer Hospital Patient and Family Advisory Board to learn more about how they are strengthen collaborations between patients, family members and caregivers.

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