June 4, 2016 | by City of Hope
June 5 is National Cancer Survivors Day, an annual celebration of life held in hundreds of communities nationwide and around the world.
Held the first Sunday in June, the day is a celebration for those who have survived cancer, an inspiration for those recently diagnosed, a gathering of support for families and an outreach to the community. On this day, thousands gather around the globe to honor cancer survivors and to show the world that life after a cancer diagnosis can be fruitful, rewarding and even inspiring.
The day provides an opportunity for all people living with a history of cancer — including America’s more than 14.5 million cancer survivors — to connect with each other, celebrate milestones and recognize those who have supported them along the way. It is also a day to draw attention to the ongoing challenges of cancer in order to promote more resources, research and survivor-friendly legislation to improve cancer survivors’ quality of life.
At City of Hope, the celebration will continue through the week of June 6, with free yoga, meditation classes and an array of other events open to the community honoring all cancer patients and caregivers.
Below, a few of our most inspiring survivors:
Amelia Tena beat breast cancer not once, but twice. When Amelia learned that her cancer had returned after a brief remission, rather than causing her to lose hope, the news only strengthened her resolve to fight. One of the most important lessons she learned was to not let cancer treatment get in the way of “healing the soul”: “One of my favorite things to do is tai chi. It calms every part of me,” she says. “I also love to go for walks. Whether you enjoy meditating, doing yoga or taking long walks, doing simple things every day to heal your soul makes a difference — not only to your well-being, but also as part of your treatment.”
Now a nine-year cancer survivor, Amelia — a Hispanic immigrant — is also a City of Hope volunteer, providing much-needed counseling and mentorship to Spanish-speaking patients. She shares some other important lessons she learned from battling breast cancer here.
To be diagnosed with a rare, highly malignant form of breast cancer at age 29 was absolutely devastating for Kommah McDowell. Her doctor at the time told her that she had just a 5 percent chance of surviving the triple-negative inflammatory cancer, and that she would never have children. Kommah’s journey to recovery — including giving birth to a healthy son — all began with her decision to get a second opinion at City of Hope.
“City of Hope treated me as a person. I wasn’t just a patient; a chart. I mattered,” Kommah says.
Now, 10 years later and completely cancer-free, Kommah describes her life as a “dream come true.” “Cancer was the greatest challenge of my life that has refined me to be the person I am today,” she says. “I thank God for the new me. I am stronger than I have ever been spiritually, mentally and emotionally.”
She shares some of cancer’s other important lessons, including learning to put her own needs first, here.
Hassan Shiblak is an example of the importance of early lung cancer detection. In late 2013, the 58-year-old Long Beach, California, resident was diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer and underwent surgery at a local hospital. Not long after, the Boeing engineer developed a painful lump in his chest and decided to visit City of Hope for a second opinion.
Marianna Koczywas, M.D., a City of Hope medical oncologist, discovered cancerous cells in Hassan’s chest, and Dan J. Raz, M.D., M.A.S., co-director and surgical director of City of Hope’s Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program, performed surgery to remove the cancer.
“Dr. Raz saved my life,” says Hassan, who has now been cancer-free for almost two years.
Learn the four key lessons Hassan took away from his experience here.
When 52-year-old Jim Murphy, an avid mountain biker, was informed he had esophageal cancer, he made a powerful decision. He decided to continue living as actively as possible, doing the things that fueled his spirit and soul.
“When I found out I had cancer, I decided I would make the best of the situation and continue living a normal life,” he said. “Cancer is not a death sentence; it’s a disease.”
With clearance from his doctors, Jim rode his mountain bike at least three times a week during his chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He also continued his duties with the National Ski Patrol at Bear Mountain. Jim kept his focus on moving forward while leaning on family and friends for help.
Now in remission, Jim found that blogging about his experience both inspired others and led to an outpouring of unexpected additional support.
Firefighter Gus Perez was 41 and about to be transferred to the Hazardous Materials Unit in San Pedro when a routine physical uncovered a shocking discovery: he had chronic myelogenous leukemia.
While receiving care at City of Hope, Gus was interested in pursuing a more challenging treatment that could improve his chances of long-term survival: a bone marrow transplant. It took an entire year to find a donor, but in August 2004, harvested stem cells were flown from a donor in Wichita, Kansas, and infused into Gus.
Gus has now been cancer-free for 12 years. Here’s some of the advice — including limiting your Googling — that Gus has for others coping with cancer.
When Alex Tung, the only child of a Chinese immigrant single parent, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at age 37, the hardest thing for him to do was tell his mom. The Southern California native was determined to beat cancer, not just for himself, but for her.
Alex needed a bone marrow transplant, but because of his Chinese heritage, the search proved more difficult than expected. Although 12 million people have signed up with the registry, only 7 percent are of Asian descent.
Ultimately, with the help of his doctor, Elizabeth Budde, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope, Alex signed up for a clinical trial that used umbilical cord blood for transplantation instead of bone marrow. Cord blood has been found to provide the stem cells necessary for transplant when a blood cancer patient doesn't have an ideal stem cell match.
Alex is now in remission. He shares the four lessons he learned from his cancer-fighting experience — including finding a facility that speaks your mother’s language — here.
Allisa Miller was a 29-year-old mother of a 2-year-old when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014. What she and her husband had initially thought were the early signs of a second pregnancy (slight abdominal swelling) ended up being a malignant tumor.
Determined to fight the disease, she came to City of Hope soon after her diagnosis. She met with Robert Morgan, M.D., and he confirmed her diagnosis and explained the treatment plan. “I needed a strong team behind me, and clearly City of Hope was that team,” Allisa says. “Being diagnosed with cancer is like joining an exclusive club full of wonderful members — but a club no one wants to be a member in. I have had the privilege of connecting with so many wonderful cancer patients and survivors.”
Allisa is now in remission and participates in the Walk of Hope fundraiser. Learn how to register or donate to Walk for Hope, a national fundraiser to advance the research and treatment of women’s cancers.
Anya Shah was just 8 years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. But she didn’t let cancer slow her down. In between treatments she kept up her participation in her favorite activity: gymnastics. Even when she was too sick to go to class, her coaches would come to her home to train her. Now, four years later, Anya is in remission and her career ambitions have shifted from becoming president of the United States to becoming a pediatric oncologist and treating other kids with cancer.
“After my successful journey with cancer, I am continuing my journey with school and gymnastics. In gymnastics, I am exploring new skills and new techniques to becoming an expert gymnast,” she says. “When I become a pediatric oncologist I want to inspire cancer patients to fight on, and that cancer is not the end of the world.”
Anya shares some other tips for those going through cancer, and how family members can best help, here.
If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.