Cancer survivors gather to share hope

Sheri Cohen refused to wear a wig when her hair fell out during 10 months of chemotherapy.

And she's happy to pull out the snapshot taken seven years ago of her as a bright-eyed, but quite bald, 29-year-old woman fighting for her life against Hodgkin's lymphoma.


Today she is cancer-free; her brown hair is long and full again. And Cohen is part of a growing army of people willing to talk about their experiences with cancer.

"I'm here to celebrate survivorship," Cohen said yesterday at the end of an 18-hour, overnight American Cancer Society event at Howard Community College.


While "the c-word" was once a dreaded diagnosis that few sufferers or their families could comfortably discuss, countless events are now held for survivors to come together to share their experiences and receive comfort from others.

Yesterday in Washington, thousands ran in a fund-raising race for the fight against breast cancer. And Johns Hopkins Hospital held its first Cancer Survivors Day event as dozens of survivors gathered for workshops, motivational talks and a celebration.

Getting involved

Among them was Eden Blum, 28, who sported a red pin proclaiming her a "2 1/2-year cancer survivor" after a battle with rectal cancer. Blum joined a support group and has gotten involved with several cancer-related activities.

"It really doesn't do anyone any good or the community any good by keeping my story inside," said Blum of Owings Mills.

Doug Ulman, a 22-year-old Ellicott City man who has had three bouts with cancer, told the Hopkins gathering to remain hopeful.

"If I can, I try to let people know there is life after cancer. It's not a death sentence," said Ulman, who has formed a nonprofit group designed to help young adults deal with cancer.

Brushes with cancer


Few families escape a brush with cancer. This year in the United States, about 1.2 million cases will be diagnosed and an estimated 552,000 people will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

In Maryland, which has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation, the organization estimates 22,000 cases will be diagnosed and 10,200 people will die this year.

But, with rapid advances in prevention, detection and treatment, more and more people are defeating cancer or living with it for longer periods. And more of them are getting involved in groups and activities that focus on the fight against cancer.

The American Cancer Society event in Columbia drew a throng of cancer survivors and hundreds of their supporters for a walk-a-thon around the college track.

Friends and supporters

Cohen was joined at the event by a dozen friends -- some coming from New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- who together raised about $1,600.


Friday night, as a bagpipe wailed, participants lighted 5,200 luminarias lining the quarter-mile track. Dozens of candles on the side of a hill spelled out "HOPE" in large letters.

On the side of each luminaria was written the name of a cancer victim or survivor.

Survivor lap

The emotional high point came as survivors, each wearing a purple sash, made a slow lap around the track as onlookers applauded.

Judi Raglin, 47, an Ellicott City woman who was diagnosed with leukemia in 1994, was part of the group.

With her was her mother, Patricia Jones of Trappe on the Eastern Shore, who has had two different cancers. Accompanying them was Raglin's sister, Joanne Marshall of Cockeysville, who donated bone marrow to save her sister's life.


The women and several friends from Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City -- each with lavender tags featuring the name of their group, "Bethany Beacons" -- raised $3,300 for the event and left with a new reservoir of good will.

"The camaraderie is great," said Raglin, who spent about 14 weeks in the hospital in 1994. "The survivors' lap is a nice thing to know there are others out there."

The event attracted a diverse crowd, including children, teen-agers and retirees.

Leslie Topus, a Howard County high school history teacher and mother of three, stirred the crowd Friday night when she discussed her two cancers.

As she left the stage, 50 of her students surprised her, each handing her a single rose.

'Just another word'


Topus' advice for dealing withcancer: "Make it just another word, like 'and' or 'the.' "

And, she said, don't be afraid to reach out for help. "It's a huge battle. We can't win it without the help of everybody."