20 Years of Young Adult Cancer Canada

Ahead of the latest instalment of Shave For The Brave, Young Adult Cancer Canada approaches their inspiring milestone 20th anniversary


Geoff Eaton pauses to think on the sobering reality that brought him from a cancer diagnosis at the age of 22, to founder of Young Adult Cancer Canada, an internationally regarded organization that has made significant strides in supporting and raising awareness of young adult cancer patients and survivors. 

“I’m not quite at the point where I would have been a cancer survivor longer than I hadn’t, but I’m getting there,” Eaton begins. “I’m getting older. So that’s a good thing.”

Eaton was diagnosed with leukemia in 1998. Braving his own battle with the disease, and seeing the woeful lack of services available to someone his age, Eaton would found what was then known as RealTime Cancer two years later, seeing the urgency for programs and services availing to young adults battling cancer. 

The organization would be rebranded as Young Adult Cancer Canada in 2008 and now leads the charge on a national level in supplying resources for young adults looking for inspiration, information and support while waging their own fights against cancer.

‘Horribly unacceptable’

“Support is barely even on the radar of the cancer system, community and all governments and beyond,” Eaton explains. “Back then, it was worse. It’s still horribly unacceptable now. And for young adults, we just had different stuff going on in our life. So when we get cancer, the things that are pressing and urgent for us are different. And the cancer system very, very importantly, is organized by what part of you has cancer. But I’d suggest to you that for patients outside of treatment where you are in your life matters way more than where cancer is in your body. 

“The core finding that we had back then was that there was nobody doing this work. We looked for brothers and sisters that we could be buddies with or an affiliate of and there was nothing in the country at that time focused on young adults. So our goals became to be the resource for this population that we know really needed the support.”

The organization proudly celebrates its 20th anniversary this June, something Eaton attests he could not have envisioned when the germ for the idea grew two decades ago.

“Back when I was younger for sure, I was pretty good at seeing opportunity, but I was far more interested in chasing the opportunities that I saw, whatever they might be, than I was sitting down building out a 20 year strategic vision. If you ask me 20 years ago if I’d still be working at YACC in 20 years, I would definitely have said no. And I definitely would not have had the roadmap played out in my head as to where we would have gone, even in our ballpark sense.”

The annual Shave For The Brave campaign is one of the leading events for YACC annually. The idea for the initiative was born from the mid 2000s Coins For Cancer drive, where in 2005 a student shaved their head to raise funds and awareness at Holy Heart High School. The move was so popular and positively received that the Shave For The Brave was born.

“One of the best parts about the Shave For the Brave for me is how many thousands of kids have been involved in a really important, powerful social ethics initiative,” Eaton shares. “They have stepped up and made a big sacrifice and lead with their hearts to help people who they will likely never know. And that kind of philanthropy at that young age is just truly incredible.”

Ambassadors for Shave

Annually Shave For The Brave spotlights ambassadors, either cancer survivors themselves or shavers who help to spread the cause with drive and determination. This year young Samuel Peddle, Order of Canada winner Rob Crosbie, and 19 year old Meghan Waterman, who bravely continues her fight with small cell hypercalcemic carcinoma, are the 2020 Shave For the Brave ambassadors who help empower and inspire both shavers and doners with their remarkable stories.

“They’re important stories and the Shave has got both sides of the track of YACC on it,” Eaton says. “It’s got those younger and more experienced philanthropists who engage and raise money and want to help in that way. And then, of course, the beneficiaries of that are those brave young adults that are dealing with cancer. YACC is able to support them because of the funds raised for Shave For the Brave.”

For Eaton, who has watched YACC grow from grassroots organization to nationally regarded institution, there’s pride, but no time to rest on laurels.

Desire to do more 

“I definitely have this insatiable desire to do more,” he admits. “And part of that is just internal. It’s just hardwired. But another part of that is just the reality of how much further we have to go. We’ve hit some great milestones on route here. We run and support a community of 3,600 young adults right now that are all across our province, all across the country. But today 22 young adults will learn that they have cancer and only one of them will find YACC. 

“We have done some amazing things and we’ve certainly touched a lot of lives. And yet at the same time, we know that the vast majority of young adults are still dealing in isolation from peers and community that get them and they don’t get access to the support services that they want and need. So we had some good success, but our best is yet to come. It has to be. The thousands of young adults that are dealing with cancer are counting on.”

The next Shave For The Brave takes place simultaneously from the Avalon Mall in St. John’s and Gander Mall at 12 pm on Saturday March 14th. To register for either event, head to shaveforthebrave.ca, and for more information on YACC visit youngadultcancer.ca

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