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Phoebe to acknowledge Cancer Survivor Day

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- National Cancer Survivor Day is typically celebrated the first Sunday in June, but the Phoebe Cancer Center is jumping into the celebration a little early.

The cancer center's National Cancer Survivor Day celebration will be held at Phoebe HealthWorks from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.

The upcoming program will mark the 17th annual event. Officials say they expect to see close to 200 people there.

"It's a day of celebration," said Patricia Swain, outreach programs coordinator for the cancer center. "There will be no workshops, no learning."

The fellowship program is set to include mime and theatrical performances, food, door prizes, dancing and music. The theme will be "Cruise Around the World."

"Food is being donated by area restaurants," Swain said.

Swain is a 10-year breast cancer survivor herself, which gives her a strong personal attachment to the event's overall purpose.

"It's important because it's a support system," she said. "People will see old friends and meet new friends.

"Being a survivor is a strange kind of thing; you don't ask to be there. Every good mammogram I get is a celebration."

Someone else who can relate to Swain is Karen Bernard, who was diagnosed with squamous cell anal canal cancer in July 2008.

"I was so completely overwhelmed," she recalled.

The day after her diagnosis, Bernard had an appointment with Dr. Charles Mendenhall, a radiation oncologist.

"He sat down with me and answered every question I had," Bernard said. "He said 'I can cure you and this is what we are going to do.' "

Her care was also handled by Dr. Chirag Jani, a medical oncologist at Phoebe. Her treatment included seven weeks of radiation and two inpatient chemotherapy stays.

So far, the results have been very favorable for Bernard.

"When I was done I had no tumor," she said. "Twenty months later, there is no sign of disease."

Like Swain, Bernard described the experience of making it out the other side as something similar to joining a new club.

"You dodge a bullet, but it can come back again," she said. "Nobody understands it unless you've been through it."

Saturday's celebration will be the first one Bernard has attended since her diagnosis.

"I want to rejoice with others that are there," she said. "Cancer is beatable. It's not fun, but you can get through it."

In the long-term, Bernard said the experience has taught her to count her blessings.

"You are thankful for friends and family," she said. "You're not guaranteed another day, so you are thankful for every day you get."

Mendenhall will be the master of ceremonies the event, Swain said.

"He is a really super guy; all the patients love him," she said. "He's a wonderful oncologist who loves his patients.

"(Survivor fellowship events) help you not feel so bad. You get to share your experiences and how you made it through."

The program is free and open to the public.