The Power of Community

By Erin Price Schabert and Kiersten Gallagher, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts

“You won’t understand the unabashed power of a community until you are in one.” – Author Jon Acuff

There is power in community — a strength that comes with standing together with others in unity — a shared sense of purpose and vision. Many groups come together naturally: families, neighborhoods, schools, or sports teams. Other times finding your community — your people — can be a bit harder.

What happens if you do not have a community? What happens when you are thrust into a situation where you feel utterly alone and have no control? This is the situation many young adults find themselves in when they are diagnosed with cancer. Each year in the United States approximately 70,000 young adults, ages 15 to 39 years old, find themselves feeling very alone when they receive a cancer diagnosis.

Imagine being in what many consider the “prime of your life” and hearing the words “you have cancer.” Imagine having to take time off from your life so that you can accommodate your new cancer treatment schedule of doctor’s appointments, diagnostic tests, chemotherapy infusions, hospitalizations, radiation, immunotherapy, or surgery. Imagine watching all of your friends continue on with their lives as they graduate, advance their career, date, get married, have children, or buy their first home. Imagine having a huge stack of medical bills to pay when you have an entry level job and student loans to pay off. As everyone else’s life moves forward, you stand still. The sense of unfairness and isolation can be consuming.

It’s these individuals that are aching for a community — a place to belong, a place to vent, and a place to just be.

The DC Young Adult Cancer Community was created to provide this incredibly important place of belonging. The group members provide each other with support, validation, and a sense of not being alone.

“I’ve been through so many cancer treatments and experimented with healthy living and eating, but forming connections with other survivors has healed me the most.” — Kalli, DC Young Adult Cancer Community member

The DC Young Adult Cancer Community was created in partnership with 15 DC area hospitals and cancer support organizations and is hosted by Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. Smith Center is the only independent cancer support organization serving the entire population of Washington, DC. Our mission is to develop and promote healing practices that explore physical, emotional, and mental resources that lead to life-affirming changes for people affected by cancer.

In order to help survivors heal from the challenges of cancer, we aim to provide a sense of community to all who come through our doors. We are particularly proud of the impact made by the DC Young Adult Cancer Community, but we realize that healing isn’t always about sitting in a circle and sharing stories. Education is healing. Empowerment is healing. Advocating is healing.

That’s why we are so proud to be a member of Critical Mass, THE voice representing young adult cancer issues at a national level. Critical Mass is working tirelessly to ensure that the unique needs of young adults diagnosed with cancer are represented to policy makers at the highest levels.

Our work with the DC Young Adult Cancer Community provides the opportunity for young adult cancer survivors to share their stories with each other. By hosting Critical Mass AYA Town Hall discussions, Smith Center is able to provide a forum for young adult cancer survivors to raise their voice and share their concerns with those outside of our community.

Thanks to Critical Mass, young adult cancer survivors now have the opportunity to come together, speak out, and be heard.