Do What You Love While Supporting YSC
It’s been an awesome month so far as we honor our many YSC Champions. These incredible individuals take time from their busy lives to help spread awareness that young women can and do get breast cancer. They go above and beyond by hosting DIY fundraisers to help us sustain and expand essential programs. What you may not realize is that many YSC Champions are breast cancer survivors themselves. Some are newly diagnosed, some are figuring out their “new” normal, while others are celebrating cancerversaries. But each champion has one thing in common—they do it out of love and, many times, they do what they love!
Allison Vitsky is one of these incredible YSC Champions. She found a unique way to do exactly what she loves to raise funds for the organization that supported her through the toughest time of her life. Her photo series tells her very special Survivor Story on this week’s YSC Champion Highlight.
Diving Is My Thing
I received my first scuba certification in 1992, just after I had graduated college – a gift from my mom and dad. Little did they know what this would unleash! I lived near the ocean most of my life and loved swimming, but scuba diving was not even on my radar. I had no clue how much I would love it, even during the class. The gear was heavy and seemed very constricting, but the moment my head went underwater for the first time, it was like a switch flipped – the world suddenly seemed so big! I think that’s why I love it so much. It reveals a side of the planet that we can’t see from the surface, but is so integral and critically important to all of us. Being underwater is the most peaceful, centering experience I know.
The Reality of Breast Cancer
At the time of my breast cancer diagnosis, I was 33 and living in Boston, MA during my postdoctoral fellowship. As I was showering one day, I put my hand on my left breast and felt a mass. I had concurrent feelings of abject terror and scoffing denial (“I’m too young, it’s probably nothing.”) I went to the physician and had to push for the appropriate diagnostics. Within three weeks, I had a breast cancer diagnosis.
I ended up accepting a position at a local company because the student insurance plan I had was tough to navigate. My first day at that job was actually about 9 days after my first chemo treatment. Most of my coworkers actually met me when I was bald–that was a little crazy!
I dealt many of the unique issues young women diagnosed with breast cancer face. A rush to decide whether I wanted kids someday, friends who couldn’t handle my diagnosis and the fact that I was often the youngest person in the oncology waiting room. These issues are so isolating. I was so lucky to find the Young Survival Coalition. I sent them an email
and within days, I no longer felt so alone. There was a very strong YSC group in Boston and I was embraced by a group of young women who were there to answer questions, support me and keep my spirits up. I will forever be grateful to YSC and that group of young women.
Getting Back to What I Love
I started diving again as soon as I finished chemo and healed from surgery. I had only dived in warm water up until my diagnosis. But afterwards, I received training to use specialized exposure gear for colder water so I could dive close to home. My goal was for diving to become a weekend activity instead of a vacation-only one! By 2004, I was an avid cold water diver, even when things were very cold–climbing over snow to get to the ocean, thawing out the icicles in my hair, that kind of ridiculous stuff. A few years later, I moved to California, where the water is still cold, but at least I’m not thawing out my hair every time I complete a dive in January!
How It All Started
I was diagnosed in October of 2003, which also happens to be breast cancer awareness month. There’s absolutely no way for me to escape the reminder of my diagnosis. I always felt drawn to what was goings on during this time of year. Breast cancer runs and walks seem to occupy every weekend of the month. But I always feel more drawn to getting on a dive boat, because it’s generally accepted that autumn has the best diving conditions in California. Every weekend in October, I’d guiltily pass groups of pink-clad survivors on my way to boarding a boat and getting underwater.
Last year, tired of feeling guilty, I created a breast cancer dive day. I chartered a local dive boat, packed some pink diving gear and told all my friends that I’d like to see a boat full of pinked-out divers. Voila! Dive into the Pink was born. It was surprisingly easy to plan and execute. The boat spots sold out (18 divers, plus my husband and I) and people were really enthusiastic. The day of the event, divers were posting to social media that received a lot of positive attention. People seemed genuinely excited to be able to dive for a larger purpose.
What’s Next For Dive into the Pink
This year has been a whirlwind since Dive Into the Pink started. We initially had two dive charters planned for Fall 2016, but they sold out so rapidly that we had to add a third. We’ve worked with a few dive gear companies to create special “swag” for all participants. We also coordinated with excellent charter operations to make sure each dive is uncrowded and personalized.
Beyond our organized dives, we worked with Prawno Apparel, an amazing company, to create a fantastic limited-edition t-shirt. We’ve also been approached by other companies for dive travel and gear as well as fitness consultants, jewelry and others offering swag donations. Some larger donations were are featured on an online auction that will open on October 1.
Next year may be even more exciting! You’ll have to stay tuned for that, though. I wouldn’t be doing any of this if it weren’t for Young Survival Coalition. Dive into the Pink wouldn’t be able to plan events without the incredibly generous and truly caring support from the dive community as a whole. It’s my hope that we’ll be able to continue harnessing that support as Dive into the Pink grows so that young breast cancer patients know they are not alone!
Easy ways you can turn your passion into support
Thank you Allison, for turning your passion into an incredible event to help spread awareness of the critical issues unique to young women diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to Dive into the Pink, YSC is able to reach more young survivors and provide them with support and empowerment.
It just goes to show that anyone can create a DIY fundraiser and have an awesome time while doing it! Some of the best fundraisers are those that focus on the activities you love to do anyway. Whether you love to run, bike, walk, hike, play baseball, softball, basketball, football or soccer, dance, sing or dive–you really can create a unique event that combines your passion with a way to generate essential funds for YSC.
Become a YSC Champion today. Help us spread awareness and raise money to support more young survivors and women living with metastatic breast cancer.