By Mercedes Manzolillo
HARRIS June 17, 2003 What does the word cancer mean to you?
Does it conjure images of sickness, fear, or even death?
To the cancer patients, survivors, and their families at the Annual Oncology Celebration of Life Picnic on June 12, National Cancer Day, it does not mean any of those things.
Take Julie Allen, for example. A Roscoe cancer survivor and the local representative for Congressman Maurice Hinchey for the past ten years, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989. She had surgery but now is being treated for metastatic breast cancer, which is a recurrence.
Although the cancer came back in 1997, Allen is now simply trying to control it through weekly chemotherapy at Catskill Regional Medical Center.
Allen was at the Harris facility for the festivities Thursday with her husband, Don. And she had wonderful things to say about her treatment at CRMC.
This is my third round of chemo, she explained. Being here at Harris, its local, wonderfully warm, and has expert staff.
Allen also had some things to say about the picnic and life in general.
Every day is a miracle we have to rejoice, we cant worry, we have to appreciate what we have; otherwise, we get bogged down with what we dont have, she remarked. This hospital and staff are wonderful. Its a small community with huge hearts.
To her, cancer means a bump in the road, not death. Allen said its a tough battle, but dont be afraid to ask questions.
[We have to] look around us cancer is as real as it gets. Look at the spirit and support: it takes a world, it takes funding, caring and sharing, she explained, then added, Everyone is celebrating life.
Anne Parker, who is also a cancer survivor, was at the Celebration with her daughter Alyssa LaPolt and granddaughter Natasja LaPolt. Parker was diagnosed 20 months ago with breast and lymph node cancers while she was being treated for a blood problem.
She had eight months of chemo-therapy and radiation and seven surgeries. She is finished with therapy now and goes to the hospital every six months for mammograms.
Parker said she is feeling great.
The care I got was marvelous, [as was] the compassion from the staff, she related. They cried with me, laughed with me. [They were] people I had never met before, and they helped me through it. They dealt with me one-on-one.
Im not a number to them Im a person with a name and feelings.
Parker also went to a program called Look Good Feel Better by Nel Miros, which teaches cancer patients how to deal with losing their hair and how to put on wigs and makeup.
Parker said all that changed my life.
She and the rest of the picnics attendees enjoyed entertainment while eating a barbecue buffet. There was piano music by Lucille Horton, Terrence Mullen on the bagpipes, and Sheahan-Gormley Irish Step Dancers. Erin and John Slaver played the fiddle and guitar, while Dr. David Schwalb juggled.
For the kids, there was an ice cream cart, pony rides outside, face painting, a moon bounce air machine, Macaroni the Clown, popcorn, door prizes and raffles. The Sullivan County Sheriffs Department attended to do finger painting.
There was even a parrot at the picnic Vito, owned by Jean Cezernet.
Sullivan County Clerk George Cook was the emcee.
Therapy dogs also stopped by. Chester, a sheep dog, is a certified therapy dog who works with children with cancer. He is owned by Dr. Katherine Seibert, the head of CRMCs Oncology Unit.
A butterfly bush planting was held by Sally Heins-Jasuta, R.N. and other CRMC nurses, in honor of their oncology patients. The bush is a symbol of hope, according to Dr. Seibert.
The planting of the bush is to celebrate the patients courage we plant the bush to honor the patients, she explained.
The bush is now planted in the Woodland Wildings Garden at CRMCs Harris division.
The nurses involved in organizing the picnic were Mary OShea Siegel, Glorianne Ellison, Mary Winski, Laurie Just, Ann Travis and Sally Heins-Jasuta. Linda Smith was the coordinator of the event, and Heather Noller and Kathy Valenti helped as well.
According to Julie Allen, this kind of a day is why she can live a fruitful, enjoyable life.
We thank God we go through it and were here to smile the next day, she said with her own smile evident.