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National Cancer Survivors Day cause for celebration

When she heard Mercy Medical Center was going to celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day on Sunday, Megan Campbell knew she had to be there. The doctors and nurses at Mercy are, after all, the reason her two kids got to know their grandmother.

The six years since her mother, Priscilla "Jo" Jones, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Campbell said, have meant the world to her family. At the time, Campbell was pregnant, and she wasn't even sure Jones would see the birth of her first grandchild. Now, two grandchildren later, her mom is still around to spoil them.

"Now I know, no matter what, they're going to remember her," Campbell said as she leaned on her mother.

There was a lot of gratitude, and pride, and relief, going around Mercy on Sunday. Nearly 400 people — including cancer survivors and their friends and family — celebrated the fact that they've been diagnosed with cancer and are still here to talk about it.

Michelle Williams has seen the courage that survivors exhibit firsthand. She came with her aunt, Elsie Williams, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and has been cancer-free for the past five years. Her aunt's cancer, Williams said with obvious pride, has never defined her.

"I'm here to support her, she's one of my favorite aunts," Williams said. "Regardless of what happens to her, she is positive — even if she's not doing good."

Hospitals, medical centers and assisted-living facilities throughout the country celebrated Sunday's 25th annual National Cancer Survivors Day. The U.S. is home to some 12 million cancer survivors, Armando Sardi, director of the Institute for Cancer Care at Mercy, told the crowd.

"Think about all you have to be grateful for," Sardi said, to murmurs of approval from his audience.

The crowd at Mercy heard from a trio of cancer survivors, as well as nurses, physicians and hospital officials. They applauded politely after each speaker but saved their most boisterous reception for cancer survivor Merle Stanley, who received a standing ovation after her rousing rendition of "One Moment In Time."

"I just want to celebrate life," said a beaming Claudette Williams of Catonsville, a seven-year breast cancer survivor. "I'm so happy to have a second chance."

Sister Carole Rybicki, SSF, chaplain at Mercy, said she was gratified by the high spirits so many cancer survivors have shown. At a time when it must be tempting to give up or feel sorry for themselves, most seem determined to fight the disease and seize whatever moments remain to them, she said.

"It's scary, hearing that diagnosis," said Rybicki, herself a 10-year breast cancer survivor. "When it's yourself, it's scary. Those words, 'It's malignant,' hit you in the gut. But this is a celebration of life. It's an opportunity to feel the importance of life, the energy of life."

Terri Rowley, an oncology nurse at Mercy for 20 years, agreed. "Everybody here has got more courage than I've seen in a long time," she said. "They just keep going."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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