It’s such a dreaded thing that people often refer to it only by its initial — the C word.
But at the Festival of Life on June 1, the letter stood for a lot more than cancer. There was also courage, care and mostly, celebration.
Hundreds of cancer survivors and their families gathered in the Harry & Celesta Pappas Quad on the Health Sciences Campus to commemorate their success in beating back the disease and to show others that they can do it too.
Now in its 23rd year, the event is held in recognition of National Cancer Survivors Day. It was hosted by the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital.
Like he has for nearly every festival, Art Ulene acted as the master of ceremonies. Ulene, a Norris Cancer Advisory board member who had his own cancer scare several years ago, told the audience that they should embrace their lives.
“There is life — good life — after cancer,” he said. “We didn’t always treat that as a fact. When I was young, it was considered a death sentence.”
The event continues to be more popular with each passing year, said Alicia Syres, director of volunteer services at the hospital.
Not only was the day for the survivors, but also gave their care providers a chance to see how their patients have progressed.
“It’s not just for cancer survivors and their families,” Syres said. “It gives staff a shot in the arm. They see these people come back, and it’s a real boost for them.”
Speakers included cancer survivors Michael Treadwell and Judy Spark. And thoracic surgeon Jeffrey Hagen talked about advances being made in the treatment of lung cancer. A few letters of thanks were read from former patients who could not attend.
For 64-year-old Lee Woolever, returning to where he had an operation for esophageal cancer was a way to be with people who understood what he went through.
“I somehow feel a connection to the university and hospital,” he said. “I get a bit overwhelmed when I see how many people are touched by cancer.”
Near the end of the ceremony, the hundreds of people sitting in the quad turned to face the windows at the Norris Hospital a few hundred feet away. They knew that there were people on the other side of those windows who were going through what they had experienced, and they wanted to send a sign of encouragement. They waved and cheered to the unseen patients as a way to know that, despite their fears, there is, in fact, a good life after cancer.