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Celebrating Survivorship Together

As people laughed and hugged and posed for group photos, the scene looked like a family reunion – and in a way, it was.

Stony Brook University Cancer Center’s 14th annual celebration of National Cancer Survivors Day was a happy gathering of those living with and beyond cancer, shared with their caregivers and the Cancer Center’s medical and support staff who have helped them during and after treatment. The event drew a crowd numbering nearly 800.

Yusuf A. Hannun, MD, Director of Stony Brook Cancer Center, welcomed the crowd and asked cancer survivors to stand for rousing applause and cheers. Dr. Hannun noted that the Cancer Center’s new home in the Medical and Research Translation (MART) building, to open in November, will double the Cancer Center’s space and significantly increase appointment capacity. He described how the MART will build on Stony Brook University’s longtime strengths, including research, cancer biology, genomics, informatics and imaging.

“We bring all of Stony Brook to bear on each and every one of the problems we encounter in cancer medicine,” he said. 

Cancer survivor Ethan Zohn, the day’s invited speaker, shared his personal story. Zohn is a former professional soccer player, winner of the reality television show “Survivor Africa” and co-founder of the HIV/AIDS education and prevention program Grassroot Soccer. He was first diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in 2009. After remission and then enduring a recurrence, today Zohn lives cancer-free. 

“I was on top of the world, feeling happy and healthy, until a swollen lymph node popped out in my neck” and his cancer diagnosis followed, Zohn said. Though he was devastated, Zohn also found a new opportunity to spread his message of strength and hope to others.

“Don’t let a crisis go to waste,” he said. “It’s a chance to change the narrative, to tell your own story, to sing your own song.” 

Sara Giglio, who was treated at the Cancer Center for breast cancer, spoke about her strategies for staying positive. Giglio was nicknamed “The Candy Lady” for bringing candy to her treatment appointments. She connected with her fellow patients by sharing the sweet treat. Posting her story on social media helped her feel a sense of community, Giglio said. Above all, she urged the audience not to give up.

“Cancer does not define me,” Giglio said. “Cancer has taken many things from me – my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes, time with my babies and family. But I won’t let cancer have control of me. I have control of my attitude, and you do too.”

Those who came to Survivors Day were ready for some lighthearted fun, including watching Stony Brook physicians take a dip in the ever-popular “Dunk-A-Doc” water tank.

“The kids love it, and I have to admit, I do too,” said pediatric oncologist Bob Parker, MD.

Radiation oncologist Craig Grossman, MD, PhD, also signed on. “I enjoy seeing my patients smile as they dunk me,” he said. “It’s a great way for us to interact outside of the hospital.”  

Medical oncologist Roger Kerestes, MD, and orthopaedic oncology surgeon Fazel Kahn, MD, also volunteered to be dunked for the enjoyment of their patients and other guests.  

Survivor Yvette Ceyhan watched the festivities and recalled when Stony Brook surgeon Thomas Bilfinger, MD, removed a malignant nodule from her lung.

“I’m a Brooklyn girl,” she said. “Yes, there’s a lot of wonderful hospitals in Brooklyn. But nobody treats you like Stony Brook – from the people who clean, to the people who bring your food, to the doctors and nurses.” 

Holding balloons and enjoying ice cream in the spring sunshine, a crowd gathered to watch the Parade of Survivors. Triumphant in their victories over cancer, the survivors walked as the DJ played Elton John’s song “I’m Still Standing.” They linked arms and sang together, “Looking like a true survivor … I’m still standing.”

To view photos from the event, visit our Facebook album