Smile Politely

Supporting breast cancer survivors and those who love them

Not long after my recent breast cancer diagnosis, a friend called and told me about her treatment experience. An essential part, she said, was support from the Young Survivor Coalition (YSC). YSC’s mission is to ensure that no woman under 40 who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer has to face it alone. Most YSC affiliates are in large metropolitan cities so I feel lucky that our area has one. YSC is an amazing group of lovely, bright women who, when I came to them, welcomed me, and offered support, understanding, and connection.

On June 16, the HighDive hosted a benefit for YSC called “Beneath the Skin.” Organized by Sven Johnson, it offered a festive atmosphere, music by local performers, and a silent auction. Sven graciously answered my questions about the event.

Smile Politely: This is the 2nd annual event, right?

Sven Johnson: This is our 3rd annual event, the first two iterations of this event were titled “In Living Pink” — also held at the HighDive in June 2010 and 2011. We changed the name to something that fit better with who we are. I wanted a name that fit with the duality of cancer and our own human condition. Beneath the Skin is the name for the event because we felt that it represented the vision of the Urbana-Champaign affiliate:

  1. The beauty of a person is determined by what lies Beneath the Skin — Not by breasts or scars, but by the power of character and strength of will.
  2. Beneath the Skin, we all want the same thing: a cure, support, and to feel loved and accepted.
  3. We all fear what is Beneath the Skin: diagnosis, a recurrence, or our own battle with stage IV.

SP: How did you get involved with this event?

Johnson: I’ve been involved with the Young Survival Coalition Champaign-Urbana since its inception. My wife Leslie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. As a caregiver who had only been married four years, I quickly learned that there were not many resources available for young women locally or even nationally. There was no sense of resonance with other young survivors or other caregivers who find that they are usually in a very lonely place. This had to change, and thanks to my wife and a handful of other women, the YSC C-U became a volunteer affiliate of the national Young Survival Coalition.

This event was something I just lucked into. Our affiliate has always been about playing off of the strengths of this community. One thing that has become clear is that we have an overabundance of local pride and local music, and that makes for an amazing combination. Beneath the Skin is about more than raising funds; it’s about supporting this community, raising community awareness of our services, and at the same time it’s about the beautiful and vibrant survivors that we need to take time to celebrate. It’s about growing our community and being a part of the local scene. We are a vibrant part of this community.

SP: How many people/businesses donated to the Silent Auction?

Johnson: Over 40 local businesses, individuals, and bands donated toward our silent auction. We are so proud to be part of this community and have this community support us!

SP: How much money was raised and what does it go for?

Johnson: Looking at our initial figures, it looks like we raised around $1,000. All funds raised stay local and are used to support survivor programming, including:

  • Peer-to-peer support
  • Newly Diagnosed Resource Kits (NDRKs), which are packed with helpful information
  • Quarterly survivor educational programs to help young survivors with their “new normal” after breast cancer
  • Monthly social networking activities
  • The You Are Not Alone Symposium, a day-long conference for young breast cancer survivors held November 3, 2012 at Parkland College

Our community outreach efforts focus on educating the community about breast cancer in young women and working with researches on important health issues.

SP: Tell us about getting the bands on board.

Johnson: Our first event in 2010 was a watershed moment for me. I began talking to Angie Heaton, who was solely responsible for connecting me with many musical acts in this town, and she herself was the first to sign on to be an act at our inaugural event.

I typically begin planning in January and contact as many people as I can who I think would be a good complement for each other. I try to have singer/songwriter acts and round it out with a couple bands. I am amazed at how receptive bands are to donating their time or merchandise if they can’t perform. Cancer (unfortunately) is such a universal connection for everyone that I interact with, that there is almost always some kind of positive reaction to my request. I am also convinced that just about every musician in this town has a big heart and would do anything for a charity.

SP: Will you do it again next year?

Johnson: Absolutely. We are going to work with the City of Champaign and other major promoters to make sure that we pick a date in June or July that will accommodate the incredible music events that are held each year during this time frame without stepping on each other’s toes, because there is certainly enough room for all of the incredible music in this town.

Sven Johnson and Leslie Hammersmith

For more information about YSC’s local affiliate, please see their website.


Photos by Joanna Strauss. Used with permission.

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