With the Statue of Liberty as a symbolic backdrop, nearly 2200 cancer patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals recently gathered at the 3rd Annual 'Celebrating Life and Liberty' survivorship event.
Participants gather at the 3rd Annual Celebrating Life and Liberty survivorship event
With the Statue of Liberty as a symbolic backdrop, nearly 2200 cancer patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals recently gathered at the 3rd Annual “Celebrating Life and Liberty” survivorship event, hosted by the John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC) at New Jersey’s Liberty State Park.
The annual celebration was originated by Andre Goy, MD, MS, chairman and director and chief of the lymphoma division at the JTCC. Goy conceived the idea for the “Life and Liberty” event while treating a patient who worked as a curator at the Statue of Liberty.
This year’s event was open to all JTCC, Tomorrows Children’s Institute, and Hackensack University Medical Center affiliates’ patients, their caregivers, and the dedicated healthcare staff.
Attendance at the JTCC’s annual survivorship celebration has grown from 700 at 2009’s inaugural event, to more than 1500 last year, and more than 2000 this year.
The festivities included singing and dancing, live music by The Infernos, and inspirational performances by JTCC survivors. Adults and children were invited to participate in a variety of interactive workshops, including a Statue of Liberty drawing, Laughter Yoga, hand massage, and quilting.
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“The happiness and celebration of the group was contagious,” said Goy about this year’s event. “It’s inspiring to see everyone come together to share their stories and support each other.” The event is an opportunity for caregivers and survivors at various stages—newly diagnosed patients, those who have relapsed, and patients who no longer need treatment and are in follow-up—to gather outside the walls of the cancer center, noted Goy.
Jacqueline Connors, RN, OCN, was not only attending the event as a JTCC nurse, but also as a wife of a cancer survivor. Her husband, Raymond, had non-Hodgkin lymphoma but has now been cancer-free for 5 years. “It’s a day to celebrate life and liberty. The nurses went to spend time with patients outside of the work environment. We were able to meet each other’s families. It’s a very heartwarming experience,” said Connors.
“People go to the event and forget they have cancer. It’s a way for the cancer center to give back,” she added. “Nursing is a very rewarding field. Some days are tougher than others. It’s not what we give the patients, but what they give us each day.”
Goy has a mission to increase the JTCC focus on translational research, personalized medicine, and a holistic approach into cancer care. “He [Goy] has brought so much light into the cancer center,” said Connors.
Breast cancer survivor and first-time attendee Stephanie Riggi-Sciarra, a 48-year-old artist, was moved by the scene at Liberty State Park. “It was quite inspirational to see this great number of people come together in such a beautiful setting to celebrate surviving cancer and to share their stories with one another. It made me feel as though I was part of something much greater than my own survival experience—a community of survivors and an enormous support group all sharing each other’s triumph. It was a great day filled with old and new friends.”
Photos from the 3rd Annual Celebrating Life and Liberty survivorship event.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, Riggi-Sciarra finished treatment in May 2010 and continues follow-up tests at JTCC. She was diagnosed with breast cancer after finding a marble-like lump in her right armpit. She advises all women to check their armpits when doing self-examinations. “So many women don’t even think of their armpits. My cancer went right to my lymph nodes and not my breast.”
Riggi-Sciarra is also a firm believer in giving back. A talented artist, she gifted the JTCC with one of her paintings, which is now on display at the cancer center.
“Celebrating Life and Liberty” is one of the many initiatives the JTCC is implementing to integrate a holistic approach to care as part of overall treatment. This year, the center opened a new building specially designed to be an oasis for patients and families with various programs focused on well-being, such as nutrition classes, free yoga, and meditation.
Riggi-Sciarra said she plans to volunteer in the arts therapy program that is currently in development. “I really believe art can heal. There is a lot of stress and emotions going on when battling cancer. If I could help just one person, it’s totally worth it.”
Eileen Koutnik-Fotopoulos is a freelance writer based in Keyport, NJ.