Hundreds of cancer survivors and their families gathered on June 2 in the Harry & Celesta Pappas Quad on the University of Southern California (USC) Health Sciences campus to commemorate their success in beating back cancer.
Now in its 23rd year, the event is held in recognition of National Cancer Survivors Day. It was hosted by the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital.
Like he has for nearly every festival, Art Ulene acted as the master of ceremonies. Ulene, a USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital advisory board member and former “Today Show” medical expert who had his own cancer scare several years ago, told the audience that they should embrace their lives.
“There is life – good life – after cancer,” he said. “We didn’t always treat that as a fact. When I was young, it was considered a death sentence.”
The event continues to be more popular with each passing year, said Alicia Syres, director of volunteer services at the hospital.
Not only was the day for the survivors, but it also gave care providers a chance to see how their patients have progressed.
“It’s not just for cancer survivors and their families,” Syres said. “It gives staff a shot in the arm. They see these people come back, and it’s a real boost for them.”
Speakers included cancer survivors. A few letters of thanks were read from former patients who could not attend.
For 64-year-old Lee Woolever, returning to where he had an operation for esophageal cancer was a way to be with people who understood what he went through.
“I somehow feel a connection to the university and hospital,” he said. “I get a bit overwhelmed when I see how many people are touched by cancer.”
Near the end of the ceremony, the hundreds of people sitting in the quad turned to face the windows at the USC Norris Cancer Hospital a few hundred feet away. They knew that there were people on the other side of those windows who were going through what they had experienced, and they wanted to send a sign of encouragement. They waved and cheered to the unseen patients as a way to show that there can be a good life after cancer.