Ellis Fischel hosts cancer memorial service for friends and family

Saturday, May 22, 2010 | 4:59 p.m. CDT; updated 8:54 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 22, 2010
Joyce Caraker, right, speaks with Dale Cunningham, center, while her daughter, Mary Cunningham, looks on at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center Memorial. "This service is wonderful; we make friends and it transcends cancer," Dale said. "Grief and the need to remember are universal regardless of the reason."

COLUMBIA – Ellis Fischel Cancer Center hosted a memorial service Saturday morning for those who had lost loved ones to cancer.

“The service is a reflection of the love the staff and patients have for each other,” said Kristi Gafford, executive director of Ellis Fischel.

The memorial, held in the center's lobby, was run entirely by volunteers, many of whom worked at the hospital. There have been two ceremonies a year — one in spring and one in autumn — for about 13 years. As of late, they usually have about 100 participants.

“It’s very emotional, but it’s such a rewarding experience,” volunteer Betty Evans said.

Many of those in attendance either worked for Ellis Fischel or had lost a loved one themselves. Bonnie Fay fell into both categories. She began volunteering one day per week in 1999 and came in even more often after her husband died last August. Fay, her son and her best friend are all survivors of cancer.

“You just feel so blessed when you’re here,” Fay said of the service. “It makes me feel so good.”

The goal of the service is to be as diverse as possible, Evans said. Saturday’s ceremony featured performances by the Columbia Mennonite Singers, praise dancers from Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and a dulcimer duet by Bill and Susan McFarland. Art Dyer served as the chaplain.

Members of the Ellis Fischel staff offered reflections on their work at the center and the patients who made that work worthwhile. Mark Hunter has worked at Ellis Fischel for two years and has volunteered with the service ever since he started.

“I wanted to be a part of cancer care that combines state of the art academic medicine with a gentle, loving and kind family atmosphere,” Hunter said.

Prayers and words of encouragement urged those in attendance to remain optimistic and remember their loved ones without sorrow. Volunteers such as Hunter said the service was about happiness, not pity.

“The people who participate in the care of your family members are not afraid to acknowledge this service for what it is: a celebration of life, a celebration of God,” Hunter said.

Friday’s approval of the new Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, after years of rejection, added to the optimistic attitude of the memorial service.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled," Gafford said. "We love what we have here at Ellis Fischel, but sometimes it limits our abilities to advance cancer care and growth."

The next event at Ellis Fischel is a National Cancer Survivors Day celebration from 2 to 4 p.m. June 6 on the building’s front lawn.

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