In a festive atmosphere punctuated with song and laughter, more than 700 cancer survivors and family members gathered for the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital’s 24th annual Festival of Life on May 31.

Art Ulene, MD, a Norris Cancer Center advisory board member and former “Today Show” medical correspondent, served as master of ceremonies for the event, which also featured testimonials by cancer survivors and encouragement from USC Norris physicians.

Educational booths staffed by cancer survivors, hospital employees and community organization representatives lined Harry and Celesta Pappas Quad as attendees filtered into the festival. One booth featured a “Scroll of Life,” lauding the work and courage of patients and their medical support teams with handwritten notes of gratitude such as, “Thank you for saving my mommy, Dr. Russell.”

Among those speaking at the event, held in recognition of National Cancer Survivors Day, were: Cary Roach, doctoral resident in occupational therapy who was diagnosed in 2012 with Hodgkins Lymphoma and Ellen Whalen, RN, MSN, DRSc, an ovarian cancer survivor who is also associate administrator at Keck Hospital of USC; and Heather Macdonald, MD, assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and breast surgery.

To the applause and hoots of the crowd, Whalen showed off the cardinal-and-gold “Fight On” T-shirt she wore to each of her chemotherapy treatments after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011. She said that she feared her Keck Hospital employees — suddenly having to treat her as a patient — “might be nervous about sticking their boss with needles.”

She quickly added: “I can tell you they were definitely not.”

Macdonald praised the courage of cancer patients and their families, and pledged on behalf of physicians, “We will walk this road with you,” and continually strive to provide better care as scientific advances open new avenues for treatment.

Festivities included music by the Bayou Brass Band, balloons, flowers and the release of one hundred white doves at the close of the ceremony. Guests also had a chance to meet and have photos taken with USC’s mascot, Traveler. Throughout the event, families shared hugs, tears and also lots of laugher as they exchanged stories of adversity and triumph.

— Jon Nalick