Writer, cancer survivor, and former hospital chaplain for Seattle’s Cancer Care Alliance, Debra Jarvis, will be giving the keynote address at next month’s International Chordoma Community Conference (ICCC) in Boston (March 24, 2018). Focusing on choosing our responses to cancer or any kind of life challenge, Jarvis brings her signature wit, honesty, and empathy to the chordoma community, offering insights on everything from navigating difficult emotions to moving forward after treatment.
Diagnosed with infiltrating ductile carcinoma – an aggressive form of breast cancer – in 2005, Jarvis not only knows how to support cancer patients, she also knows what it feels like to be one. Having undergone a mastectomy and chemotherapy, she’s intimately familiar with the physical and emotional impact of the disease. However, Jarvis prefers not to be defined as a “survivor” – an identity she finds limiting.
Rather than letting the experience of living through cancer claim her – dictating how she was supposed to feel, what she was supposed to do – Jarvis instead chose to claim her experience, using it as an opportunity to find her own meaning and pave her own path.
Best known for her humor and for telling it like it is, Jarvis is not only an ordained minister, but also a playwright, author, and pastoral consultant for volunteer groups caring for people with AIDS and MS. In her book, It’s Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life & Cancer, she writes honestly and humorously about her experience with cancer as a patient, a caregiver (her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer one week before she was), and a guide for more than 30 years to other individuals and families navigating a cancer diagnosis.
In her 2014 TED talk, Jarvis explained how the identity of “cancer survivor” can feel static and invited others to join her in claiming their hardest experiences, while giving themselves room to grow and evolve.
“I learned a lot being a patient, and one of the surprising things was that only a small part of the cancer experience is about medicine. Most of it is about feelings and faith and losing and finding your identity and discovering strength and flexibility you never even knew you had. It’s about realizing that the most important things in life are not things at all, but relationships, and it’s about laughing in the face of uncertainty and learning that the way to get out of almost anything is to say, ‘I have cancer’.”
Jarvis’s talk at the ICCC will begin at 8:40 AM on Saturday, March 24, and she will remain at the conference through lunch to meet and talk with attendees and sign copies of her book, which will be available onsite for a suggested donation. We’re thrilled to have her participation at this year’s event and hope you will plan to join us and attend what is sure to be an insightful and engaging talk. See you in Boston!