McHENRY – Sunlight, jazz music and the sound of happy reunions filled the Centegra’s Sage Cancer Center on Sunday as nearly 400 people gathered to celebrate Cancer Survivors Day.
“It is important to celebrate life and celebrate each day of life,” said Terrence Bugno, radiation oncologist with Centegra. He stood in the Cheri Amore Garden of Hope surrounded by dozens of cancer survivors and their families.
Bugno was taking a break from playing his trumpet with the jazz band entertaining the crowd. He and dozens of other doctors and nurses ditched their suits and scrubs for the afternoon to treat the spirit of their patients, past and present.
“Today is not about the label of cancer survivor,” Bugno said. “It is about celebrating who they actually are and every aspect of the community that is part of the experience of cancer.”
Stacey Monsen, a thyroid cancer survivor, attended Sunday’s event. Although the 23-year-old McHenry resident has been in remission for five years, she returned to Centegra to connect with the nursing staff and others in remission.
“It’s nice having people around you who know and understand,” Monsen said.
She spoke while coloring a paper butterfly at one of the celebration’s many therapeutic activity stations. The butterflies will hang in the bushes of the hospital’s garden to encourage those seeking solace and inspiration.
“The goal is to let people know they are not alone,” said Mary Schneider, a nurse and one of the event organizers.
Sunday marked the 29th National Cancer Survivors Day and Centegra’s sixth observance.
When Schneider and oncology counselor Marianna Wolfmeyer started Centegra’s celebration, it was modest, with about 70 guests including staff, Schneider said.
“We brought our own card tables, and I brought a patio umbrella from home,” Schneider remembered.
The event’s evolution reflects that of the entire oncology department, she said. Today, treatment at the cancer center is comprehensive, not only including radiation, chemotherapy and infusion medications, but also counseling, spiritual support, financial counseling and dietitian care.
“We really try to hit their mind, body and spirit,” Schneider said.
Sunday was about the spirit.
Guests could take advantage of free food, massage therapy, tai chi and yoga stations, and were encouraged to plant flowers, make plant stakes and take silly photos in a photo booth.
Stomach cancer survivor Terry Pancyrz of McHenry took advantage of the party with his family. Diagnosed in 2012, Pancyrz and has been in remission for four years.
“To everyone who worked on me or took care of me, I cannot thank them enough. Even the people in general who I met during treatment who were also patients. You meet, some of them and you say to yourself, ‘I ain’t got it so bad,’ ” he said.
Pancyrz and his doctor Ginny Kamboj were part of a testimonial presentation at the event. For both the doctor and patient, the day was about feeling gratitude for the team of nurses, staff and volunteers who helped in the fight to save Pancyrz’s and other patient’s lives.
Doctor Thomas Weyburn and his patient breast cancer survivor Jeanine Katzel, 68, of Cary, also presented testimonials. They talked about the importance of connecting not only as doctor and patient but as people with hobbies and interests like great Italian food.
The stories activities and stories throughout the afternoon led to strong emotions for many in attendance.
“Today is like coming back to family,” said Cheryl Kawell of Lake in the Hills. “We’ve all be through the same situation.”
Kawell was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and is in remission. She was joined on Sunday by her husband Brad Kawell and daughters Casey and Natalie Kawell of Woodstock.
“It makes you feel like you’re not alone,” Cheryl Kawell said. “You’re not out there by yourself, the only one going through this.”
Centegra sees about 850 new cases of cancer per year, hospital spokeswoman Michelle Green said.
Cancer Survivors Day takes place on the first Sunday of June each year, but their support groups that meet regularly to help connect those diagnosed with cancer and their loved ones.
• Cancer Transitions: a group program for survivors who have completed active treatment generally within the last two years.
• Caring for the Caregiver: a monthly group for those offering care to anyone with a serious illness.
• Connections: a monthly group for women with breast cancer under 40.
• Creating Expressions: a monthly expressive arts program designed to benefit cancer survivors and their care partners.
• H.O.P.E. (High on Positive Energy): a monthly energizing group offered to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
• Guided Patient Services: A one-time class offered bi-monthly in a group setting for the recently diagnosed with cancer and their partners.
• Look Good … Feel Better: a program for women in active cancer treatment. Volunteer cosmetologists teach women techniques to help them combat the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment.