A 2nd Act: Young Advocacy and Support

Posted By on October 3, 2019
Kim Stoffers and Brittany DeBoer

Two women … two stories … big outcome

By Judy Pearson

A 1980s television ad depicted a young woman so giddy about her shampoo, she told two friends about it. And they told two friends … and so on, and so on. With each statement, the television screen divided in an example of mathematical magic. That same math and magic happened four years ago, when Kim Stoffers and Brittany DeBoer were introduced to one another by a nurse. They were both young and they had both been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“When we met, we learned we lived just two miles apart,” DeBoer said. “Our friendship was immediate. Together, we conquered cancer one day at a time, knowing that there was someone just a phone call away to ask questions, complain or just laugh — which we did a lot.”

Cancer conjures up many fears, one of the most prevalent of which is death. But nearly 50 percent of the women of childbearing age who are diagnosed each year are never told that cancer treatment might also impact new life. Chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments compromise fertility in half of the women who receive them. And while great advances have been made in cryopreservation — the ability to freeze eggs and embryos — fertility treatments are expensive and not covered by major medical providers in Arizona.

Stoffers puts it well. “We were so grateful that we were given fertility options prior to starting treatment, so we could make informed decisions about our own bodies. When you’re first diagnosed with cancer, you feel like you have no control. It’s hard enough to figure out your treatment plan, let alone think about your future AND decide it all within a matter of days.”

Over the course of their cancer treatments, Stoffers and DeBoer shared the speed bumps and roadblocks that are part of the experience. Their friendship was so impressive, their fertility doctor introduced them to another young breast cancer survivor, Alli. When they met for coffee the first time, she in turn brought along Amy and Cori. Just like the shampoo ad — but with a far more important impact. In 2017, the five women founded the nonprofit Young Advocacy and Support (YAS for short).

Being part of a cancer support group sometimes means having to say goodbye too soon to someone you’ve grown to love. Tragically, co-founder Alli lost her battle in 2018. But her strong spirit lives on in the organization’s three-pronged mission. First, they support other young women survivors by providing them one-on-one mentoring. Nothing can replace talking to another woman who really understands because she’s actually been in the trenches.

“When you get cancer before 40, it’s hard to find someone to connect with,” DeBoer said, “someone who understands that you haven’t even lived half of your life yet. YAS connects us all in a big way via social media. We can answer questions or calm fears instantaneously. And we have small monthly get-togethers to ensure each woman knows we’re in the fight with them. We talk and occasionally shed a tear, but mostly we laugh.”

Stoffers provides the perfect example of that latter point. “If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was too young to have cancer, I could pay for my frozen children to go through college!” DeBoer follows with, “Getting ready in the morning takes only a few minutes when you’re bald!” Move over Lucy and Ethel, there’s a new game in town.

YAS’s second goal is to advocate for fertility education. That means educating not just patients, but everyone in the oncology field. The aim is to bring that 50 percent statistic from darkness to enlightenment.

Finally, via fundraising and events, the group’s last goal is to create scholarships for fertility treatments. Cancer is not something one budgets for and neither are fertility treatments. Consequently, they become an unexpected — and often heart-wrenching — out-of-pocket expense. Not only will YAS scholarships relieve this financial burden, they will give hope to young survivors for the many things possible in life after cancer. 

Proof positive of those possibilities has recently come in the form of exciting news from YAS co-founder Brittany DeBoer. Prior to cancer treatment, she and her husband preserved eggs and are now expecting twins!

It’s doubtful the ad men who conceived that shampoo ad three decades ago ever considered their concept might have such a powerful outcome as this. But YAS proves it.

Many women … many stories … many gifts. And so on and so on.

To learn more, go to facebook.com/youngadvocacyandsupportYAS.

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