Community Cancer Center holds Cancer Survivors Day


A cancer survivor puts her thumbprint onto a painting of a tree during the Cancer Survivors Day celebration at the Community Cancer Center of North Florida on Saturday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.

Doris Thomas, 65, had more than her fair share of dealing with breast cancer even before she was diagnosed.

Having seen her youngest sister and eldest daughter both die from the disease, Thomas suspected something serious when one night in 2009 she performed a breast self-exam and found a lump.

After driving from Lake Butler to see her radiologist in Gainesville for a mammogram and PET scan the next day, her fears were realized — she was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.

But Thomas, despite her experiences, decided to fight and to maintain hope.

“I knew they fought for life. I saw them physically trying,” she said of her sister and daughter. “And then I would just tell myself, when that would rise up in my mind … ‘Doris, you are not them — this is your walk, this is your battle, this is your fight.' Somehow or another, I convinced myself that this being me was different — that's what really kept me going.”

After two surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, Thomas is now in remission. She said that while at times it was hard, she tried to keep her faith and stay strong for herself and for her three adopted children — one of whom is her late sister's son.

“I never broke down, I never had a pity party, (and) I kind of stayed strong,” she said. “I kept saying ‘God, you allowed these kids to come into my life for a reason. I haven't finished my journey with them — I've got to be here.' So, I felt that there was a reason, and I (was) going to be OK.”

The Community Cancer Center of North Florida's Gainesville location held a Cancer Survivors Day event at its location on Saturday, which was open to the public and all cancer survivors, regardless of where they received treatment. This celebration of life was held in observance of National Cancer Survivors Day, which takes place on the first Sunday of June.

“As soon as someone is diagnosed, that's the start of survivorship, because every day is another day that they've beat the disease,” said Tina Lloyd, a patient navigator at the center who organized the event. “So we just want to make sure that everyone knows that we appreciate them and that we know that they've had a long journey. And we're just here with them throughout the journey.”

Inside a large framed tent set up in the center's parking lot, participants mingled with one another while the smells of hot food wafted and were propelled by the tent's internal fans.

Tables, adorned with seashells and vases containing blue, yellow and white spring flowers, were put to use by cancer survivors and their friends and family.

Others perused the vendors tables, at which a number of local and national companies that supply in-home health care and specialty pharmacy and infusion services sold their goods.

Outside the tent, a DJ played a mix of contemporary music and classic rock while some event-goers got a free massage or took part in either of the two new craft projects undertaken for this year's event.

A whiteboard with a brown, barren tree drawn on it, called the survivor's tree, was available for participants to add colored leaves using a foam paint brush. Cancer survivors painted their leaves green, while family members or caregivers painted theirs using purple paint. Finally, staff members painted their leaves yellow, with the result being a vividly colored tree.

The second project had cancer survivors make quilt sections out of approximately 5-square-inch pieces of cloth, which were of varying colors. Participants labeled the cloth with their names and adorned them with plastic gems. The quilt, once put together, will eventually be displayed inside the center.

About 125 people attended the event, of which 35 were cancer survivors, said Lloyd, the event's organizer.

While the number of those who survive cancer may not be significantly increasing, said Dr. Martin Holzman, a radiation oncologist at the center, he said there are more patients who are living longer with cancer due to newer treatments and advances in diagnostic technology. He also said that fewer patients are dying of secondary causes such as infection and reactions to treatments.

Holzman said, however, that survivorship is becoming more apparent to the public because of changing social views, which no longer regard the disease as taboo. He also said that survivorship programs help cancer patients cope with the stigma of having the “Big C.”

“I think survivorship programs make it easier for the patient who is going through their treatments to see that there are other patients like them and that there's a camaraderie and that there's a group that they can go to for help — that they can share concerns and the psychological stresses,” he said.

Doris Thomas said she appreciates the center, which gave her confidence, comfort and support. She also said that events such as this are about fellowship and offering support and encouragement to others.

“I tell people that if you give in, you're letting it win,” she said. “You're giving it control of you and it's taking charge, but you've got to tell yourself ‘OK, cancer, you might be here, but I'm going to get up and keep going.'"

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