Shave milestones tend to come with AMAZING stories. Our last milestone Shaver was Tyler Hayley, a recurring Shaver who started shaving with his school when he was in KinderStart. Not only is he a great kid, his fourth Shave—our 10,000th—was on his birthday!
On December 9, 2017 Alyssa Dickey, our 15,000th Shaver, will face the roar of the razor, and we couldn’t be more honoured to recognize her as we hit this latest milestone. Shave for the Brave was created for young adults like her.
Alyssa was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at age 32 and attended her first Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) event, Retreat Yourself, in 2012. She has been to Survivor Conference multiple times, and is a member of YACC’s digital network.
“After my diagnosis, I felt so different from everyone else. You’re so isolated; you go to the cancer clinic and everyone thinks your mom is the patient,” Alyssa said.
She first heard about YACC through a Google search, and initially thought she would never be the kind of person who would go to a retreat and sit in a circle to talk about cancer. After creeping on the website for a while, she saw Retreat Yourself was being offered in Alberta, somewhere she hadn’t been. She gave it a shot and says she immediately felt like she found a community of people whose lives were just like hers.
We have gotten to know Alyssa and her husband, Garrett, an engaged member of our supporter network, over the last five years. YACC has been there through it all, including celebrating when they welcomed their first child, Elliot, in 2015.
Alyssa has established herself as a rock for other young adults living with, through, and beyond cancer. She is calm and level-headed, engaged, and a real leader in the YACC community, posting updates and offering encouragement through YACC’s private Facebook groups, and finding opportunities to meet up between official events.
“When I send out updates about my Shave, I always ask people how many 20- or 30-year-olds do they know with cancer. For many, it’s one, and it’s me. I tell them my answer was the same before I met YACC,” she said.
Alyssa’s cancer recurred earlier this year, eight years after her initial diagnosis, and she is getting chemotherapy in preparation for a stem cell transplant in early 2018. The last few months have added stress around test results and heavy side effects from chemo, but this champ is still looking out for her friends in the YACC community through it all. Alyssa chose to donate her hair through Shave for the Brave before her hair falls out from chemo once again, raising money to support the programs she attends through YACC, and helping to make a wig through Continental Hair’s Wigs for Kids program.
Alyssa says she and Garrett actively choose to “live as fully as we can. I wanted to turn losing my hair into something positive instead of having it fall out in clumps like before.”
“Every cancer, every stage, YACC’s got their backs. Alyssa and Garrett have lived this reality for the five years they have been in YACC’s network. We can only have their backs because so many others have ours. It’s extra powerful when a YACCer like Alyssa steps up to help their peers in this way,” said Geoff Eaton, executive director.
Alyssa says one of her biggest challenges after cancer was going back to work. When she was diagnosed the first time, it was after she had gone back to school and graduated at 31, worked hard, got promoted, and was really happy with her position. When she was ready to go back after treatment, her current job wasn’t available. She had to go back to an old position, losing the salary and perks that came along with it.
This also put her back on the interview circuit where she struggled with deciding how much to disclose about cancer, when to share it, and whom to share it with. She didn’t feel her brain had gotten back up to speed yet, and life after cancer comes with conditions, such as regular appointments.
“There’s no book on who to tell and who not to tell, but you don’t want to be discriminated against,” she said. “I don’t identify as being a sick person; that’s just one part of my life.”
YACC’s digital, local, and national programs give young adults diagnosed with cancer a place and a community to navigate unique challenges like going back to work after a lengthy medical absence, figuring out the next steps after treatment, and facing a relapse.
“It was a cool story to begin with, but it becomes extra powerful when you recognize you’re taking control of cancer and the Shave is one of the ways you’re doing it,” he told her.
“That’s a good way of looking at it. I was just looking at it as something to raise some money [for YACC] and it wasn’t going to be a big deal for me because I was going to have to lose it anyway,” Alyssa said. “I’m not used to having the attention on me. I’m used to giving back. I was flattered to hear that it’s a big deal for YACC. You like to think you’re having a small impact, but it’s all part of a big effort.”
She is Shaving at Raphael Hair Designers in York, ON with her son, Elliot. At just two-and-a-half, the toddler can’t really understand his mother’s diagnosis, but he does know she goes to the hospital for medicine. Alyssa hopes including him in her haircut will help ease the transition from her having long hair to having no hair after her transplant.
We think it’s really cool that he gets to be play a part in this amazing story, and to share a piece of the 15,000th Shaver milestone, but we’re not surprised Alyssa intends to share the spotlight.
High fives to Alyssa, Garrett, Elliot, and the 14,999 Shavers who came before her. You’re changing lives of young adults dealing with cancer in Canada, and we hope you truly feel how grateful we are for your help.
UPDATE: Alyssa is officially our 15,000th Shaver! Thank you to Kara Peseski for these pics!