SOMERS POINT — Cancer survivors, their caregivers and positive energy filled Shore Medical Center’s DiOrio Hall earlier this month for the annual Survivors Day brunch.

In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, Shore Cancer Center invited survivors to join together for a celebration of life. It was also a day to draw attention to the ongoing challenges of cancer survivorship, with the aim of promoting ways to improve cancer survivors' quality of life. Dr. James Pond, medical director of the Shore Cancer Center Pathology Lab, welcomed the survivors and said, “We are here to celebrate not just your care at Shore but to celebrate your survivorship.”

As cancer survivors arrived for brunch, they were greeted by Kim Kaczmarski, manager of the Shore Cancer Center Oncology Services, with a Hawaiian lei and the opportunity to briefly speak about their cancer experience. For each person it is a unique journey and the survivor’s brunch was an effort to acknowledge the journey and celebrate the survivor’s determination and spirit.

WPG talk radio host Harry Hurley was the annual Survivor’s Day speaker. Hurley lost both his parents to cancer when he was young and his sister is a 35-year cancer survivor. While he admitted to not really knowing the struggle the survivors faced, he acknowledged that he, like just about everyone has been closely affected by cancer.

“My comments come from my experience as a son, brother and friend to many affected by cancer. I am a strong believer that you beat cancer by how you live with it. No doctor can explain it but the mental outlook and positivity can be as powerful as the medicine, if not more so,” said Hurley. He talked about Jeopardy host Alex Trebek’s public battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and his incredible positive attitude.

“You all know this is such a tough battle. You have had both good days and bad days both mentally and physically. You know how important it is to measure how far you have come and not just how far you have to go. Win many small battles and you ultimately win the war,” Hurley said. “One trait in all those who have courageously battled cancer is that you are braver, stronger, smarter and more beautiful than you could have ever imagined. This is your life story, you get to write it, you get to edit it. No one else does.”

Many of the cancer survivors nodded their head in agreement as Hurley told them, “People who have gone through the long process of defeating cancer, there is a gift that comes with it. You don’t mark time, you make a difference. You are grateful for every day. You have dealt with your own mortality and you have an appreciation of what most could not possibly imagine. You don’t live fatalistically, but you do live with a sense of urgency. You had cancer, it never had you. You won and cancer lost.”

Vickie Hinson, of Absecon, arrived at the annual survivor’s brunch with her team: her daughters and her husband. A breast cancer survivor, Hinson said her family was a huge part of her recovery.

“You can get stuck in this,” Hinson said. “I will not let this steal my joy.”

Merlia Candelario, of Atlantic City, came to the United States from the Dominican Republic earlier this year and was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after. She credited the doctors at Shore for her medical success and her mother as her best emotional cheerleader.

Debbie Blackwell, of Egg Harbor Township, is a three-year breast cancer survivor. She walked in with her husband, Steve.

“My doctors are wonderful but my husband is my rock,” Blackwell said. “I feel good, but every day is different and I could not have gotten through this without my husband.”

Jack Greenberg, of Margate, is a five-year prostate cancer survivor and a two-year skin cancer survivor. “I feel great, but one thing is for sure; you get this diagnosis and you don’t want to hear it, you deal with it but you learn to take nothing for granted,” he said.

A Shore Medical Center nurse for 35 years, Wendy Housand is an eight-year cancer survivor. The former nurse said she feels fantastic. She said she thought about going to Philadelphia for her care, but decided to state close to home at Shore.

“I had great care here, and I was able to be at home,” said Housand, who admitted she feels very fortunate her cancer is eight years behind her. “God has some kind of plan for me, I guess,” said the former nurse.

Another retired Shore Medical Center nurse, Betty Halpern, a recovery room nurse, is a one-year uterine sarcoma survivor. “I had my surgery, chemo and radiation here at Shore, and it was all positive. Everyone was part of my team from the very first day,” she said.

Manuel Jirau, of Egg Harbor Township, is a former U.S. Marine sergeant. He is still battling prostate cancer and had his surgery at the VA hospital and is having his chemo and radiation at Shore.

“Dr. Lattanzi (medical director of radiation oncology at Shore Cancer Center) is the man,” Jirau said. “I feel so fortunate that Shore has the connection with the VA so I can just come here for my treatment. Between Dr. Lattanzi and my wife, Patty, who will not allow me to be negative, I am still in this fight, but I feel great.”

The survivors shared a sort of kinship, each understanding the challenges they have faced to become a survivor. Loretta Scheetz, of Somers Point, is a 20-year breast cancer and 10-year lung cancer survivor. She sat and laughed with Halpern and breast cancer survivor Susan Pieffer, of Upper Township, each one acknowledging the highs and the lows of fighting cancer, losing their hair and embracing whatever comes next.

For more information about Shore Cancer Center, see ShoreMedicalCenter.org or call 609-653-3585.

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