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What’s the best way to honor a cancer survivor?

City of Hope Newport Beach Receptionist and Former Patient Knows Firsthand How to Honor Survivors

Every day, Tiffany Yuhas warmly greets patients in her role as a receptionist at City of Hope Newport Beach. Some patients are coming in for the first time and Yuhas recognizes the concern and uncertainty in their eyes.

She understands their fear more than most. Yuhas, 56, is a cancer survivor who credits City of Hope with giving her life back. She understands the struggle, the fatigue, the worries, the emotions, and the physical toll of cancer. She reassures patients that they have come to the right place.

2 1/2 years ago, Yuhas she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin large B-cell lymphoma.

Yuhas completed 24-hour a day, week-long chemotherapy sessions on six separate occasions over three consecutive months. It was a challenging time, but Yuhas remained positive, which she says helped her recover.

Now, Yuhas is cancer-free, which gives her a powerful perspective on survivorship. She credits City of Hope.

What’s the best way to honor a cancer survivor?

For Yuhas, the answer is pretty simple.

“I don’t believe there is really a right or wrong way that applies to every survivor,” said Yuhas. “Of course, it depends on where the patient is on their journey and who they are as an individual.”

Yuhas fondly recalls girlfriends visiting and playing the dice game Farkle with her. She also felt supported by the son of a friend who worked at Notre Dame and held a mass for her. One of her richest memories is receiving a photo of her 5-year-old nephew lighting a candle in her honor at a Denmark cathedral.

Yuhas said other ideas for recognizing a cancer survivor include:

  • Find an adventure. Head to a waterpark. Hike a mountain. Take a walk on a beach.
  • Create a unique celebration that honors something specific about the cancer survivor.
  • Donate to a cancer organization or volunteer at one.
  • Participate in a cancer run or walk.
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Remember that a cancer survivor is not necessarily someone who is cancer-free. “I’ve been a cancer survivor from the time I was diagnosed, and I’ll be a survivor for the rest of my life,” Yuhas said.

Be mindful of what you say, and you’ll be fine

Yuhas knows that people sometimes don’t know how to support someone with cancer and are unsure what to say. She recalls difficult conversations when she began losing her hair from chemotherapy.

“I had some people say to me, ‘It’s only hair,’ and I get it, they are right, it will grow back, but it was the hardest thing for me -- I was fearful if it would fall out at once and I would wake up to it all over my pillow,” Yuhas said. “I know they are only trying to help. But it’s your identity, and it was traumatic to me.”

Let thoughtfulness and empathy be your guide, and you’ll find the right things to say, said Yuhas. “The whole idea of cancer is very shocking at first, so when patients come in they are so scared but I am very open about it and very understanding of their struggles,” Yuhas said. “Cancer is not who I am but is something I had and that I survived, and I am willing to talk to people about it.”

There’s no better present than being present

“The most meaningful thing you can do for a cancer survivor might just be to spend time with them,” Yuhas said. “Knowing there is a support system means so much.”

As for celebrations, it depends on the situation. Just avoid getting caught up in something that will be overwhelming for everyone involved, especially the survivor, Yuhas said.

“My first thought for a simple way to celebrate someone was a huge hug,” Yuhas said. “And when someone expresses to me ‘I am here for you,’ letting me know that they recognize what I went through was valid, it just helps so much.”

City of Hope Newport Beach offers our patients access to a full range of specialized programs for cancer survivors. For more information, or to schedule an appointment with a highly specialized cancer physician, call City of Hope Newport Beach at (949) 763-2204 or request an appointment online.