By L.A. ShivelyJune 19, 2009
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Sharing courage, strength and stories of endurance, nearly 1,000 patients, Family members and friends celebrated life during the 3rd Annual National Cancer Survivors Day 2009 at Brooke Army Medical Center, June 6.
According to the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation, a cancer "survivor" is anyone living with a history of cancer, from diagnosis through the remainder of life.
"As frail as the human body is, the spirit is strong. Cancer treatment is more than a process, it is a life-long commitment," said Brig. Gen. Joseph Caravalho, Jr., commander, Great Plains Regional Medical Command and BAMC, during his opening remarks.
"Cancer treatment is a very difficult time," said Patricia Babin, co-chair for the San Antonio Military Medical Center Cancer Care Committee and chief of the Tumor Registry Service. "The fact that (cancer survivors) are still here is very important and an indicator of the quality of care here."
Babin explained the celebration gives survivors a chance to meet one another and know they are not alone.
Al Walker, a Vietnam and Korean War veteran, was diagnosed with cancer and started treatment at BAMC in 1989. The diagnosis changed him.
"I improved my lifestyle and my diet and the cancer has not returned," Walker said. "At 75, I don't take aspirin and have no reason to be sick." Walker attended the BAMC Cancer Survivors Day event to meet and encourage others.
Yolie Kruizenga was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. "I'm a case study," she laughs, adding nonchalantly, "It's one of those things. I never once asked, 'Why me''"
Jeanette Haygood, a former employee with Fort Sam Houston's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, was diagnosed twice, once in 2006 and again last year. She said she credits her doctors at BAMC for her positive outlook.
"I'm a lucky person because of this hospital. I never give up and these doctors never give up on you - these docs do things no one else can. They pull you through the darkest days. If you have to come down with cancer, BAMC is the place to come. We get the very best care here."
Haygood's diagnosis and treatment led her to an unusual coincidence. She was recognized at Wilford Hall Medical Center by Bill Deal, who had been the first sergeant at the 6950th Security Wing at Chicksands Air Force Base in Bedfordshire, England during the Vietnam War, in 1967. Haygood returned home to England while her husband Don was assigned to Southeast Asia. Deal was instrumental in allowing Haygood to receive her husband's mail, which had been unreasonably confiscated. Forty-one years later Haygood, her husband Don, Deal and his wife Villma were all at WHMC Oncology. The real kicker was that Haygood and Villma Deal were both from Bedfordshire, grew up miles apart, but finally met as a result of cancer treatment.
"This is wonderful because I am around people with similar concerns and to hear success stories puts me on top of the world," said Deal. A simple cough led to her diagnosis. She was devastated, but Deal's treatment has left her cancer free. Her daughter, Sherry McCallum, is thrilled.
"She's my whole life," said McCallum.
"It's fun to see my patients here and celebrate with them," said Col. George Peoples, Chief Surgical Oncology and chairman for SAMMC's Cancer Care Committee.
"You can survive and move on successfully," said Garrison Commander Col. Mary Garr, keynote speaker. She then related her personal story of cancer survival.
Garr's diagnosis was a surprise. Groggy from the medication after a routine colonoscopy, she woke to see her husband at her bedside. He'd been called from the field by her surgeon who discovered a large and what appeared to be malignant lump, although follow-up tests returned negative. Garr experienced no symptoms during, what her surgeon estimated, two to four years the tumor grew.
Chemotherapy followed surgery and intense side effects sidelined her career, her life. "I couldn't take care of myself, let alone my Family," Garr recalled. "Thank God for the support of my Army Family." Colleagues brought meals to her Family for the six months she endured treatment.
After the chemotherapy Garr was cancer free. "My nine year anniversary will be Aug. 24," she said. Her battle with cancer left her adamant about saving lives through preventative care. "Get your screenings now," Garr insists.
Garr closed her remarks commending those celebrating survivorship. "We will conquer cancer one day. Each one of us who lives longer than the statistics say, proves statistics are just numbers. It's our job to beat them and give further hope to those yet to be diagnosed."