Like at most family picnics, people heaped their plates with food, reminisced about old times and commemorated the day in photos. But in this case, the family was more than 3,000 strong.
City of Hope bone marrow transplant survivors, family members and friends — and the professionals who care for them — gathered in Pioneer Park on May 11 for the 36th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion.
Stephen Forman greets attendees at the 36th Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion. (Photo by Thomas Brown)
The event began with a press conference where two patients met their donors for the first time (see accompanying article), followed by lunch and entertainment. Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematpoietic Cell Transplantation (HCT) and chair of the Department of Hematology & HCT, was master of ceremonies.
During the afternoon program, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Josh Lindblom lobbed a ceremonial opening pitch to Forman, then movingly told the crowd, “What’s happening here is bigger than baseball …You guys are the true heroes.”
Headlining the program was stand-up comedian Sean Kent, who marked his ninth year as a cancer survivor. Before the event, Kent tweeted his fans about his annual pilgrimage to the reunion: “Thousands of cancer survivors celebrating our collective existence: My favorite gig of the year.”
Patient Joan Solu also returned to celebrate. The five-year transplant survivor presented a $25,000 check to City of Hope to express her appreciation for life.
Music was provided by the a cappella group Unstrumental and by The Marrowettes, City of Hope transplant nurses who passionately sang “I Will Survive.”
Forman poignantly paid homage to those who had not survived, including Mushtaque Jivani, the longest-surviving patient who received his transplant in 1976 and died in 2011 from complications after an automobile accident. “The memory of Mushtaque, like the memory of so many others, enriches our lives no less than all of you, and for us, they remain both real, and alive, and accompany us through the day,” said Forman.
At day’s end, he invited the crowd to join him for the annual commemorative group photo, which grows larger each year.
“It is our family portrait, a team photo, a team where everyone who works here has a hand in every patient’s care and success,” he said, “a portrait of children, and their parents and grandparents of children, preserving more than 30,000 years of life since we began this journey.”
For more images from the reunion, see below.