Last Friday, I was lucky enough to attend the Celebrate Life ceremony hosted by Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Ill. The annual event celebrates those treated at CTCA who have reached the five-year survival mark. It was a joyous event filled with joy, hugs, laughter and inspiration.
Of the 195 overall survivors this year, about 80 made the pilgrimage to Zion. The honored guests entered on a red carpet surrounded by hospital staff, patients, survivors, loved ones and perhaps even a few curious onlookers. Each celebrant was treated to applause as they waved to their “fans” enjoying the warm (well, hot) day.
The guests of honor came from 36 states, including New York, Texas, Ohio and Illinois, to be present for a tree-planting ceremony, lunch, Hope Rounds and more. This was the 24th tree to be planted in honor of the brave survivors, which symbolizes life and growth. Then, five white doves were released to represent each year of the cancer fight the survivors faced with the help of CTCA.
Before lunch, the honorees and caregivers toured the hospital and brought positive energy, hope and inspiration to those currently treating at CTCA, a process known as Hope Rounds. Each celebrant's name was also added to the "Tree of Life" wall located in the lobby at CTCA at Midwestern.
Everyone then sat down to an organic lunch prepared by CTCA’s food service staff, with recipes straight from the Wholesome Temptation cookbook. The rice dish was delectable, and the lemon-filled cupcake topped with a large helping of CTCA-green icing won’t soon be forgotten. During the lunch, videos of some of the five-year survivors reminded attendants of how precious life is, and how it can change in an instant. Then, each celebrant’s name was called as they took their moment on stage.
I feel lucky to have been able to attend Celebrate Life, which is another reminder that cancer can be seen as the beginning of a new adventure, rather than the end. On every table, a bounded book described each survivor’s journey, which I read from cover to cover with a tissue handy. Five years ago, Lesa Malcolm-Bivens was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and given 2 ½ years to live. Here she is five years later and still cancer-free. Patick Buckley of Iowa was given three months to live with stage IV esophageal cancer, and like Lesa, he is also a Celebrate Life honoree. The list goes on and on, and each story is a reminder of why you should never give up.
Congrats to all of those who participated Celebrate Life in Zion last week, as well as the hundreds of other survivors at the additional CTCA hospitals in suburban Philly, suburban Phoenix and Tulsa. On August 15, one more location will be added to the CTCA family in Newnan, Ga.