The National Women’s Survivors Convention 2014: Building a Place Called Survivorville

The National Women’s Survivors Convention wrapped up on Saturday, Aug. 2, in Nashville, Tennessee. The convention, just in its second year, brought together more than 800 cancer survivors and caregivers to learn from each other and experts in the field.

Karen Shayne and Judy Pearson

Karen Shayne (left) and Judy Pearson are co-founders of the Women Survivors Alliance and organizers of the National Women’s Survivors Convention. | ©2014 AACR/Brian Powers

Co-founders and organizers Karen Shayne, a bright blonde southerner with boundless energy who starts most conversations with “y’all,” and Judy Pearson, who hails from Chicago and often pokes fun at her southern friend, were hoping survivors would walk from the conference inspired to get more involved. These two women’s own cancer diagnoses brought them together, making them fast friends. It spurred them to envision and build a convention, referred to collectively as “Survivorville,” a place where women (and their caregivers) can learn from experts, share their experiences, and browse for books, jewelry, or art by fellow cancer survivors in the exhibit hall. It was also an environment where survivors could dance to live music, participate in a 5K, or just sit back and enjoy views of an expansive atrium located in the middle of the Gaylord Opryland Resort.

“For us, it’s about watching lives change,” said Shayne, about the three-day convention. “We are going to watch lives change in this very hotel.”

The line-up  included educational programming, a stage production, country music impersonators, singer-songwriters, free makeovers by Look Good Feel Better, and celebrity speakers “E! News” Co-anchor Giuliana Rancic and supermodel Elle.

“This whole experience has been great,” said Wendy Kapadia, 49, a four-time cancer survivor and patient advocate who felt this survivor conference was more personal than many she’s been to. “It’s more focused on me,” she said.

“What they’ve done in just two years is amazing,” said Jonny Imerman, a presenter at the show and founder of Imerman Angels, a nonprofit organization that pairs cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers with mentors who share similar circumstances and experiences. “I’m so excited to see how this will grow.”

The National Women’s Survivors Convention will move from the outskirts of the city to downtown Nashville next year. Coinciding with National Cancer Survivors Day, June 7, the convention will broaden and showcase a performance of “My 2nd Act: Survivor Stories From the Stage” and a National Survivors Day Salute to Survivors Concert. Shayne and Pearson also plan to take “My 2nd Act” on the road, with a tour in the works for Chicago. They will discuss their experiences as cancer survivors and how they are working together to help other women navigate cancer survivorship in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2014, due out in September.