Scotland Cancer Treatment Center will celebrate National Cancer Survivors’ Day on Friday, bringing together people who may have had little in common before their diagnosis.
The celebration will begin at 6 p.m. at Laurinburg Presbyterian Church. The doors will open at 5:30.
All cancer survivors are invited to attend, whether or not they were treated at Scotland Cancer Treatment Center.
“We do it to celebrate with our patients - they have survived cancer,” said Dotti Matthews, radiation director at Scotland Cancer Treatment Center. “It’s a time for us to be out of the clinic setting relaxing and enjoying good times with the patients. Our patients really enjoy it and we get to see them outside of the clinic setting.”
The celebration, sponsored by Scotland Memorial Foundation, will be the 13th for the center, and over 300 attendees are expected. Admission is free for survivors and one guest each. There will be a $15 charge for each additional guest.
For cancer survivors, whether they have just been diagnosed or have been in remission for a decade, sharing experiences is a fundamental part of healing.
“It’s something that my ancestors had way back, but I always said it was something I would never have, cancer,” said Verdys Chavis, of Maxton. “I’d always been healthy - old folks used to say healthy as a hog. But I started off coming up here and met a lot of people and made a lot of friends and people who had the same thing I had.”
Chavis was diagnosed with breast and bone cancer in 2004, and has been in remission for 7 years. “It’s a lot of help, sharing,” Chavis said. “We meet every fourth Friday and gather all around a table and everybody talks about what he had and how it got started. Sometimes there are 15 or 20 of us and we just relate - I really enjoy it. Some of us are cancer-free, we have a couple of women and theirs has reappeared, but for me, Dr. [Kelvin] Raybon says everything looks good.”
Priscilla Graham, of Laurinburg, was diagnosed with blood melanoma in July 2011, finishing chemotherapy in November.
“This is a new experience for me, but I’m looking forward to it because all I’ve really been doing is coming to the doctor for treatment,” Graham said. “I love meeting people, I love to talk and find out how they’re doing, especially if you meet someone who has the same thing.”
For those battling cancer, hearing the stories of those who have survived the disease for years can be better than any medicine science provides.
“We do a survivor roll call, and that’s really remarkable,” said oncology social worker Mary Callahan Lopez. “What we do is identify the survivors in the room, and we always have several survivors who have survived cancer in excess of 30 and 40 years. It is not uncommon for us to have people who are a couple of months out from their diagnosis and they are able to look around this hall that is just filled with people who have fought their battle and come through in the end.”
“I feel like I’m by myself, but I’m not - I feel more comfortable knowing that there’s someone else out there who has the same type of cancer,” Graham added.
Friday’s celebration, put on with a 1960s theme, will be emceed by oncologist Kelvin Raybon, with a Tina and the Ikettes act by cancer center staff. A local cancer survivor, Ida Jones, will speak, with local band Subzero providing music.
“They enjoy seeing us not as nurses and doctors, but as waitstaff and entertainers,” Matthews said. “They come and they talk with other survivors and they see how many people are dealing with cancer and surviving cancer every day - I think they get comfort in seeing that they’re not alone.”
Survivors who attend will also receive a ribbon to tie to the Tree of Life, located in the cancer center’s memorial garden.
“It’s a challenge to see other people, some are doing good and some aren’t doing so good and some are doing fantastic,” Chavis added. “But you can’t stay at home and dwell on your problem. It will carry you to your grave. When people hear the word cancer, all they can think about is death. Cancer is not death.”