The USC Trojan Marching Band

The USC Trojan Marching Band (Photo/Hinde Kast)

On June 1, the 2024 Festival of Life celebrated the strength, resilience and tenacity of cancer survivors and their families, honoring their remarkable journeys and lending inspiration to everyone in attendance. Since 1991, USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center has hosted the event each year to recognize cancer survivors, to raise awareness of the ongoing challenges that cancer survivors face and, most importantly, to celebrate life.

Honoring tradition, the thundering drums and triumphant brass of the USC Trojan Marching Band reverberated through Pappas Quad at the Health Sciences Campus. A tree of life was installed near the event’s check-in area, enabling attendees to honor loved ones who have survived, are currently battling or have lost their lives to cancer by leaving uplifting words of survivorship. Additionally, patients and caregivers shared notes of appreciation with members of their support system from their cancer journey on the Festival of Life scroll.

Joi Torrence-Hill, MHA, chief of operations for USC Norris Cancer Hospital

Joi Torrence-Hill, MHA, chief of operations for USC Norris Cancer Hospital (Photo/Hinde Kast)

The event opened with remarks from Joi Torrence-Hill, MHA, chief of operations for the USC Norris Cancer Hospital, and Steven Grossman, MD, PhD, deputy director for cancer services for the cancer center.

“The Festival of Life is an event that I especially look forward to. Each day, not only do I witness the hard work of our amazing care team and physicians, but I also experience the commitment and partnership of our patients, families, and caregivers,” said Torrence-Hill. “Your strength inspires me and drives our team to remain steadfast in USC Norris’s mission to provide exemplary patient care during one of the most challenging times of a person’s life. Your presence here today, and the strength of your spirit, will live on in our memories and inspire us for many years to come.”

Martin Kast, PhD, co-leader of the USC Norris Tumor Immunology & Microenvironment Program and a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, obstetrics and gynecology and urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, served as the master of ceremonies for the sixth year in a row, a role that he said is a profound honor and privilege to be entrusted with.

Awa Jones, RN, MSHCM, chief nursing officer at USC Norris Cancer Hospital

Awa Jones, RN, MSHCM, chief nursing officer at USC Norris Cancer Hospital. (Photo/Hinde Kast)

The event’s featured physician speaker was Ann Mohrbacher, MD, a hematologist specializing in complex blood cancers who has served with USC Norris since July, 1993. Morbacher serves as medical director of autologous bone marrow transplantation and as Chair of the USC Institutional Review Board. Mohrbacher shared her experiences as a physician and offered words of advice to patients.

Cancer survivors including Gaspar Melikyan, a two-time leukemia survivor, and Cynthia Tomlinson, a Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, shared the stories of their cancer journeys, inspiring all those in attendance with their bravery, resilience, and strength.

Following them, Awa Jones, RN, MSHCM, chief nursing officer at USC Norris Cancer Hospital, led the attendees in a round of thunderous applause for all attending survivors. Additionally, patients currently undergoing treatment at USC Norris Cancer Hospital received their own round of applause in a moving display of community and support.

The event concluded as white doves were released into the sky by the event’s speakers, an annual ritual celebrating cancer survivors and patients while also remembering those lost along the way.

— Hinde Kast