Our Story - Women Survivors Alliance
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Our Story

Chapter 1:

In true Nashville form, the Women Survivors Alliance was created around a table in a downtown venue where the sounds of banjo and a steel guitar drowned out the hustle and bustle of Lower Broadway. With an idea on a napkin in the left hand and red lipstick in the right, the words “Survivors Convention” were written on a bathroom mirror. That’s where it began. Five years ago.

From 2008-2010, practicing healthcare administrator Karen Shayne conducted research as to what was needed specifically for women survivors. What was missing? With a healthcare background AND the opportunity to sit on both sides of the desk as an administrator and a survivor, Karen began to ask those direct questions. Cancer research saved lives, but then what? What happens when you are unplugged from the last chemo treatment, given the cupcake and sent home? What happens in those quiet moments of a still house when you are faced with the questions, “Who am I? What does that mean?” “Will I ever feel ‘normal’ again?”

Karen faced those very same questions herself as a survivor.  Karen wanted to reach out to other women to ask the question as to why they were not satisfied with their after-treatment follow-up. Although there were opportunities for discovering answers through many convention-type settings and the growing survivorship clinics within the hospital setting, she wondered why were there still so many questions.

Karen began to realize women need a different type of setting—an outlet of some kind—where networking and emotionally connecting with other women facing the same issues could be the focus; a place where any type of question could be asked and where even a simple hug from a fellow woman survivor could answer the most burning question of all: “Am I normal?” Karen also realized there was no one organization that was all about all women, all cancers, all stages and all ages.

Chapter 2:

By chance, in July 2012, Karen received a phone call from Chicago resident Judy Pearson. Judy was one year post cancer and in search of her own answers to similar questions regarding cancer treatment issues. Then she stumbled upon the upcoming convention. After several months of conversations, meetings and increased synergy between the two, Karen (now known as “Dolly”) invited Judy (now known as Elly Mae) to join the board and asked her to become a Co-Founder in launching an even bigger movement. That movement would give the convention full-year longevity with additional components, including an online magazine, designed especially for women cancer survivors. In early 2012, the gals officially joined forces, stepped away from their careers, and combined their life savings to create the Women Survivors Alliance, a 501c3 with a HUGE mission to create social change.

With a growing audience (and many curious eyes upon them), Karen, Judy, the Board of Directors and the National Advisory Board executed the official “launch” of the Women Survivors Alliance at Gaylord Opryland Resort in August 2013. SURVIVORville 2013 saw an attendance of 847 registrants, 112 cancer organizations, all from 49 states and five countries. During the launch, the WSA introduced NOU Magazine, the nation’s only women survivors digital magazine. In Spring of 2014, and as an expansion of the tradition of My 2nd Act essays at SURVIVORville 2013, the WSA launched My 2nd Act: Survivor Stories from the Stage – a live stage show showcasing local women survivors who have created a 2nd Act of life in their survivorship.

Chapter 3:

With four websites and three national (turned international) conventions under its belt, and a plethora of women survivor fans across the world, the Women Survivors Alliance has officially arrived with a steady growth of programs and national awareness for survivorship challenges. What happens next in our work of “Transforming Survivorship from a MOOD to a MOVEMENT!” will fill Chapter 3 and beyond!