Before even touching down at Chicago O’hare International Airport, my twitter feed and Facebook wall were buzzing as the excitement began to build. The time we had all been waiting for so long was finally here: HealtheVoices 2016, better known by its hashtag #healthevoices16, sponsored by Jansen Pharmaceuticals LLC, emerged in the magical windy city of Chicago, Illinois.
We came from diverse areas of the globe, presented with a special opportunity to expand our roles as online advocates, and arm ourselves with an arsenal of tools to help us better reach the communities we aim to impact. Not unique to any one particular community, it gave me the opportunity to meet advocates from across the board who advocate for various conditions, everything from diabetes and psoriasis to cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
I arrived ready to learn but skeptical as I didn’t know exactly what I was in for. I had heard so many good things about the conference from last year but wondered if my experience would be the same.
Well as expected, it wasn’t the same…It was better!
The event team from Janssen, Everyday Health, and Tonic Communications got us plugged into the program from the get go. Struggling from slight jet lag I headed to my room to get some rest before the opening reception welcome dinner.
At dinner I had the opportunity to begin this year’s theme, deeply-rooted connections, as the passion driven by online advocates came together under one roof. We quickly realized that we had much more in common than initially meets the eye and that by putting all our heads together, we could better become the catalyst for awareness and change.
My first deeply-rooted connections began as I met with other fellow HIV advocates, some I had known from before and some that I met for the first time.
We all seemed to instantly shared a bond, an unspoken trust amongst each other, as we are all on the same journey together seeking to make an impact.
I’ve followed some of these advocates since the beginning of my diagnosis, so getting the opportunity to finally meet in person was quite big for me. If it wasn’t for their inspiring courage to share their stories, I might not have been in the same position I am today in the acceptance of my diagnosis. It was truly an incredible time of bonding that showed just how tight knit our community is.
Saturday was filled with various sessions that gave us more tools we can use in the world of advocacy, everything from implementing easy to make videos into our activism to assessing how to truly measure analytic success online. Keynote speakers gave presentations on interpreting medical data and how we can work together to bridge the gap between patient and healthcare providers.
We also all took a course on compassion fatigue where we learned the importance of taking care of ourselves first so we can truly be effective in helping others.
This conference was more than a ‘show and tell” sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. It provided a fountain of knowledge we can use in the real world. It not only refocused me, replenished me, and re-nourished my inner being; it brought me back to why I started to advocate to begin with.
The lessons I learned are invaluable and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of such an amazing conference whose mission is to equip those of us on the front lines of the battle field. There is so much we can learn from one another — and the more we focus on what binds us together as opposed to what differentiates us, the quicker we can reach that goal.
Triple star ratings all the way around. I would highly recommend anyone involved in or interested in online advocacy to consider applying. As a bonus, I got to see a beautiful city I would have most likely never get a chance to set my eyes on had it not been for HealtheVoices.
As I move forward and put into place what I have learned, I eagerly await next year and can guess with certainty that it will be just as awesome as this year!