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Cancer Survivors Day a cause for celebration

Randall High and his wife, Cindy, participate Saturday in a dance that was part of the celebration for cancer survivors in observance of National Cancer Survivors Day at Phoebe Health Works in Albany. (June 1, 2013)

Randall High and his wife, Cindy, participate Saturday in a dance that was part of the celebration for cancer survivors in observance of National Cancer Survivors Day at Phoebe Health Works in Albany. (June 1, 2013)

ALBANY -- Dressed for square dancing or a good old-fashioned hoe-down, more than a hundred cancer survivors, their friends and family gathered Saturday for Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's version of National Cancer Survivors Day.

Held at Phoebe Health Works, 311 Third Ave., the event was an opportunity for those touched by the disease to celebrate their lives and share challenges and successes with others in attendance.

"For our newer cancer patients, it's a chance to just shake all that off and have a fun day," said Patricia Swain, outreach coordinator at Phoebe Cancer Center. "For our older folks, it's a chance to just say, 'Hoo hoo, I'm still here.'"

Participants were served lunch, compliments of Phoebe Putney Hospital, and enjoyed a square dance presentation by the Wheel Arounds dance group. Some even joined in the line dancing later on.

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Patricia Swain, outreach coordinator for the Phoebe Cancer Center, says Saturday's National Cancer Survivors Day celebration was a chance for those touched by the disease to share the challenges and successes they have experienced with other cancer survivors. (June 1, 2013)

Errol Markland, 67, diagnosed with multiple myeloma a year ago, said group events like this one help give his life perspective.

"Cancer is not a death sentence," Markland said. "It's like stubbing a toe. You brush it off and put a bandage on it and then you keep on going. You learn from it as a part of your experience and you get better."

Chirag Jani, oncologist/hematologist with the Phoebe Cancer Center, emphasized the power of elevated mood and attitude in winning the cancer battle.

"It's been proven in studies that the higher mood and psyche of cancer patients translates into a higher immune function and helps to fight the cancer," Jani said. "There's a big push toward curing the cancer or making the cancer a chronic disease rather than an incurable one. With newer treatments in the last five years, it makes us so proud of our doctors, seeing all these survivors living longer and longer."

Robert Krywichi, medical director of the oncology service line at Phoebe Cancer Center, sees an increasingly brighter future for cancer survival, especially with development of custom or "designer" pharmaceuticals.

"This show how far we've come -- to have a day like this for survivors," Krywichi said. "When I started in oncology in 1989, only about 25 percent who had advanced cancer survived 2-5 years. Now we're at 50-60 percent."

Krywichi likened the current and past cancer drug treatment to the "carpet bombing of World War II," with its unavoidable damage to surrounding areas, including churches and schools.

"Now that we know the human genome and have started to understand the biology of cancer, we'll be able to determine which drugs patients would benefit from and the ones we shouldn't waste our time on." Krywichi said. "The next era is coming. Now we're going to something more like 'smart bombs' to target just the cancer and not disturb the healthy tissues."

Randall High, 66, has survived two bouts of throat and lung cancer since 2005. As harsh as treatments may have been, they never curbed his love for square dancing. His philosophy for victory against the "big C" might seem unusual.

"My biggest problem with cancer was when my wife (Cindy) got it," High said. "She started her (breast) cancer treatments and I come home one night after working 12 hours. She was laughing. She'd been in the shower and saw her hair coming out so she just cut it all off.

"I got so mad at everybody. I was mad at the doctors and mad at God. There was a little pool outside our house and I went out there and sat down and flipped these little rocks into the pool. I flipped those little rocks a long time until I realized I was helpless. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I came to understand that you got to trust the chemo and your doctors, and you got to trust in God. The only way to win is to surrender. That's the only answer."