Cancer survivors celebrate with food and fun at Ellis Fischel

Sunday, June 22, 2008 | 10:06 p.m. CDT; updated 2:29 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — While Ellis Fischel Cancer Center was an unlikely setting for a party, music and laughter filled the air Saturday evening. Plates overflowed with pizza and cake littered the tables on the center’s lawn; booths of every color lined the pathway; children with painted faces played ring toss.

A celebration of life was underway.

The event was in honor of National Cancer Survivors Day and offered a venue for survivors and their families alike to find support systems, share stories or simply have fun.

“This kind of event is important because cancer takes away so much, and we so often focus on the scary aspects,” event coordinator Laura Neal said.

It is estimated that 12 million Americans are cancer survivors, according to the National Cancer Survivors Foundation. That number is growing because of improved surgical procedures, early detection and better treatment options, said Paul Dale, chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at Ellis Fischel.

Neal said between 450 and 500 people were expected to come out for the evening’s festivities. In the crowd were Harold and Theresa Hall and their two adult daughters. Of the family of four, three are cancer survivors.

First diagnosed in 1992, Harold Hall went through surgery, several rounds of chemotherapy and new treatments as cancer traveled throughout his body. His daughter, Terri, was then diagnosed with breast cancer in January 1999 followed by her mother Theresa’s diagnosis with a “not nearly as a treatment-friendly” cancer last February.

“It’s a family affair for us,” Harold Hall said. “It affects the entire family.”

Although the disease has been a prevalent part of the family’s life for many years now, Theresa Hall’s recent diagnosis has been particularly difficult. However, Theresa said she has made peace.

“I saw him fight so long that I feel I can do it,” she said. “I’m just having a good ride.”

Her optimistic tone was echoed throughout the night. The event provided an opportunity for survivors and their health care providers to meet among friends and beautiful weather, rather than the sometimes somber confines of Ellis Fischel.

“It’s good to see all the familiar faces,” said Jo Taylor, a nurse at Ellis Fischel. “It’s a much nicer environment to see our patients.”

While stories of cancer and survival varied from person to person, the importance of having hope was a mainstay.

“There is life after treatment,” said Christina Penn, a volunteer. “You can still feel like you can move forward with life.”

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