VP of Programs for GRYT, here. Many of you know me from interacting on the GRYT app. Full disclosure, I’m usually in my pajamas on my couch when we’re chatting.

It’s been an immense pleasure to get to know the GRYT community over the past couple years, and that was just through the screen of my phone! GRYT had the opportunity to up the ante the past two years at CancerCon to host our only in-person event to date: the Tell Your Story Open Mic Night.

This 90-minute experience for patients, survivors, caregivers, and professionals gives everyone both the opportunity and the platform to take two minutes to share with the audience anything they’d like about their story. And I mean, anything. There have been stories of hope, of death, inspiration, and a lot that made the whole room cry.

Two minutes doesn’t sound like much. I mean, what can you actually do in two minutes? Send a text? Pop something in the microwave? Set up a coffee pot if you have the beans pre-ground? Yet it’s 120 seconds of panic-stricken, sweat-inducing time for me. Public speaking isn’t my forte… even though I seem to find myself in repeat situations where I do it. There’s something about a microphone that terrifies me. Maybe it’s the awkward echoing that occurs as you say your first few words. Or the fumbling through adjustments to get the microphone at the right angle. The static feedback, sharp tones, and loud booms embody my nightmares. If we’re being honest here, I’m awkward and don’t recover easily.

This past April, we had twenty-eight people embrace those two minutes and share unbelievable stories of courage, defeat, sweat, tears, happy moments, and fear. Many shared with me how they were flat out scared beforehand. My go-to response is always an exasperated, You’ll be fiiiiine, knowing full well I wouldn’t be the one in a vulnerable position. Hypocritical, I know.

The first speaker who braved the podium is a melanoma patient, a single mom, and going on her second year of treatment. She shared the following story:

Somewhere Before and After

Before:

First, let me start with a spoiler. We’re all going to die.

I know, right?! I was living my life without this knowledge too.

October 23rd, 9:30 am

There is this moment

After the biopsy. Before the results.

Cancer purgatory. In which I both

Have cancer and do not yet have cancer.

Schrödinger’s Cancer

Living and Dying. Simultaneously.

October 30th, 5:17 pm.

After:

Do you know how many Cinnamon rolls I’ve justified eating because I have cancer?

Except I’m not on death row planning my last meal.

And you have to find a way to live in the space in between living and dying. Not as an excuse but as permission.

You spend a lot of time on pause for someone whose life suddenly has a big question mark after it. You’d think living would hurry up for the dying.

She gave me a lot to think about. My brain immediately took me to lecturing myself about how every day is a gift and need to actually take vacations and leave my phone behind. Food for thought.

Following her were twenty-seven other courageous people. Their stories embodied the authentic truth that is cancer. Among them, a speaker from Australia, an oncology social worker, and a caregiver whose daughter had traveled with her. There were students and grieved speakers whose loved one had been taken by cancer.

A young adult who had just quit his job and then subsequently been diagnosed; a father who was a doctor and had to give the news to his daughter that she had cancer. An app user, a survivor herself, had lost a close friend to cancer earlier this year. A son who had to translate to his parents in Spanish that he was just diagnosed with cancer. Probably the most memorable was a set of twins; one terminal and the other, her caregiver, who read her sister’s carefully articulated eulogy. Everyone’s story equally as touching and valuable to hear as the last.

The audience that slowly grew over those ninety minutes probably fascinated me the most. Without knowing each other, they laughed, cried, and cheered in unison. Myself included. The speakers’ triumphs, defeats, and frustrations mirrored those of the audience members. The harmony among the crowd came from the commonality of cancer. These weren’t expert speakers trying to push fundraising initiatives or personal agendas. They were normal people, just trying to live their lives when cancer was suddenly dropped onto their laps.

Over the upcoming weeks, GRYT will be posting these stories. Through videos and pictures, you can immerse yourself in the same experience that the twenty-eight people shared with the in-person audience.

I challenge you to watch every single one. Allow yourself to embrace the emotion and get inspired. Then hop on the app and share your story, share a low point you had or a high you were on after a personal triumph. Share your advice, your experiences, and your own emotions. Or even just let that speaker know how much it meant hearing their story to you. They had the courage to move past the awkwardness of the open mic and their maybe sweaty hands, to work through the momentary panic to share that piece with the audience in that room and several others, like you, here on the internet.

This was our second year hosting the Tell Your Story Open Mic Night and it was just as unique as the first one. The stories touched my heart along with the people sharing them. I look forward to seeing the years progress forward into more stories, more inspiration, more authenticity.

Your voice could be the next voice to inspire others. GRYT will be hosting this same event during GVCC. The good news? You’re off the hook for the awkward microphone transition.