Honoring their battle with cancer

Survivors, supporters gather to celebrate Cancer Survivors Day

McHENRY – Walking into the Centegra Sage Cancer Center the first couple of times for radiation treatment was traumatic for Jen McBride.

The McHenry resident was on her second round of breast cancer.

She was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2007, and then while on maintenance, was diagnosed with breast cancer on her other side. In 2010, it was back again, requiring doctors to remove everything they had done in terms of reconstruction so she could have radiation treatment.

"One right after the other is horrendous," McBride said. "You think you're OK, and they tell you, 'Oh, we got you this time.' And then it happens again."

But the Centegra Sage Cancer Center is no longer a scary place for her.

A former designer for a scrapbooking company, she was one of a handful of cancer survivors who thought up a free art program that gives participants a chance to rewire the creative spaces that are sometimes hurt by the mental fuzziness that follows chemotherapy and talk about all the things that are going on in their lives and with their treatment.

And on Sunday afternoon, about 250 cancer survivors and their families joined the center's staff in sharing stories, partaking in treats, making crafts and listening to a jazz quartet with one of the trumpets played by Dr. Terry Bugno.

McBride was joined by her husband, two daughters and her parents who came up especially for the event at the Centegra Sage Medical Center and for a 5K on Saturday. The three bracelets she always wears for each of the cancers she had was joined by a fourth blue bracelet Sunday in honor of her father, who survived prostate cancer.

The event held in conjunction with the national Cancer Survivors Day is in its fourth year, said Marianna Wolfmeyer, an oncology counselor, chaplain and grief support specialist at the center.

"Our hope is that they feel an increased sense of community with each other and us at Sage," she said, adding that while Sage is a place where difficult events happen, it also is a place where people can find comfort.

One of those places is the garden located in the middle of the cancer center. The spot is dedicated to patients, Wolfmeyer said, adding that to make sure patients have a quiet place to go, hospital employees aren't allowed to eat lunch there.

The center also offers support groups, and volunteers like McBride offer a listening ear and advice to current patients.

"I experienced the darkest days of my life here, but I also found it as a place of hope and healing," said Melanie Wood, one of the patients who spoke during the event.

Wood was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer in her lower left jaw, which required a 12-hour surgery to remove the cancer and reconstruct her jaw.

The treatment and recovery was a series of "small steps forward and sometimes steps backward," but she added, invoking the theme of the day, she "pushed forward and crossed the line."

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