A bright, sunny morning provided a joyous backdrop for a celebration of resilience and tenacity at the 26th annual Festival of Life on the Health Sciences Campus.
Hosted by the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center on June 4, the event was both upbeat and introspective, providing the more than 700 cancer survivors and their supporters with a place to share their experiences and talk about their hopes for the future.
Prostate cancer survivor Felipe Arias attended the event with several loved ones, and he appreciated the sense of community that he felt at the event.
“This means everything to me, the happiness, the joy,” he said. “I am happy to celebrate with all of the people here. It’s very nice and very helpful to me.”
Attendees had the opportunity to interact with some members of the animal community also. Traveler, the Andalusian horse who is the USC mascot, was available for photo opportunities and two canine ambassadors from the Paws 4 Life program were in attendance, accepting love and affection from all who approached them.
USC Norris Ambassador Art Ulene, MD, who has attended the event and been master of ceremonies almost every year since the festival’s inception in 1990, led a program of speakers and entertainment.
“Twenty-nine years ago, the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation established a worldwide celebration of cancer survivorship. It was something, in those days, that was a bit of a surprise,” Ulene told the crowd. “Today, we almost take it for granted. I think it’s a mistake to take survivorship for granted, and that is why we are here to celebrate it. Because your survivorship is the result of decades of work that have gone on in science centers like this around the country and days, weeks, hours, and months of effort.”
Among the speakers was the wife of cancer survivor Gordon Case, Amaryllis. The Cases drive to Southern California every year for both Gordon’s treatment and for the festival. She spoke to the audience about how welcomed they felt coming to USC Norris after looking hard to find the best care for her husband. At the end of her speech, she introduced Gordon to enormous applause.
Stan Kieffer shared his inspirational story with the audience, starting from his insistence to a doctor that he was certain there was something wrong with him even when the doctor said he was fine, to the discovery that he had cancer at USC Norris. Kieffer emphasized that when facing a possible cancer diagnosis, people should be their own advocate.
“You know your own body,” he said. “If you know something’s wrong with you, don’t be afraid to discover the truth because if you figure out what’s wrong with you, then you can do something about it.”
Mary Yamashita, MD, assistant professor of clinical radiology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, also spoke about research and advances into better diagnosis of breast cancer, especially among women with dense breasts, a condition that creates challenges with diagnosis through mammogram. She described a new technique that uses 3-D ultrasound to get better imaging of abnormalities that may not be detected in a mammogram.
While there were many first-time attendees at the event, there were many more who have been coming for many years. Survivor Rafael Martinez has been attending since he beat colon cancer 13 years ago. The back of his custom-made shirt said “Thank you USC Norris for 13 years strong” and this strength showed in his vitality and enthusiasm. He credits the doctors at USC Norris for his very existence.
“I’ve been coming here for 13 years. It means the world to me,” he stated, the emotion clear in his voice. “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t had my surgery here.”
— Amanda Busick