Breast cancer survivors to share survival experiences Sunday, Oct. 3

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center is hosting an Afternoon of Enlightenment for breast cancer survivors on Sunday, Oct. 3, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Star City. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Breast cancer survivors will join fellow survivors and cancer specialists from WVU’s Cancer Center for an afternoon of sharing, celebration and learning.  Cancer Center experts including Drs. Jame Abraham, Sobha Kurian, Carl Jueng, and Hannah Hazard will discuss the newest medical advances and technologies available for treating breast cancer.

“Our patients have become our extended families, and we are honored to have them as our guests at the Afternoon of Enlightenment,” says Jame Abraham, M.D., section chief of Hematology/Oncology and the Bonnie Wells Wilson Distinguished Professor and Eminent Scholar in Breast Cancer Research. “They inspire us to be better health care providers, and they are a source of inspiration to others on the same cancer journey.” 

Cyndi Smith of Cumberland, Maryland, one of the speakers for the Afternoon of Enlightenment, says while she would not wish breast cancer on anyone, she was able to find purpose behind her diagnosis. “Before my diagnosis, I didn’t realize how precious life was. It made me embrace life more. It brings you closer to people.”

Smith, who is approaching her 10th year as a breast cancer survivor, gave up a successful business career to go back to school to become a registered nurse. “I want to work in oncology with breast cancer patients. I want to give back what I got, and that is hope and encouragement that other survivors gave to me.”

“Being called a survivor makes me feel strong--reaffirms to me that I can make it through everything,” says Gina Stewart, a four-year breast cancer survivor. Stewart was a 15-year veteran of the Morgantown Police Department when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I might have cried for a couple hours and felt scared. But my training taught me that if you are going to make it, you have to be logical. I got in ‘kick butt’ mode.”

Stewart had to leave the department last year due to neuropathy, a nerve problem that can result from cancer or cancer treatment. But, she found her niche at the American Cancer Society (ACS). She began working at their Morgantown office as a volunteer director in a program geared for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. This February, she was hired as a community manager to coordinate ACS Relay for Life events in four counties. “I always tell new cancer patients to believe in their God and get strength from that. I also remind them to laugh and live life.”

Sixty-nine-year-old Clara Atchison of Weston also believes in living life to the fullest despite breast cancer. “You can have cancer, but cancer can’t have you,” says Atchison. She was told by her doctor in 2002 that her cancer was advanced and that she had 18 months to live.  Atchison sought treatment at the Cancer Center following her initial diagnosis. “I decided that if I’m going out, I’m going out my way.”

Eight years later, she still works as a resource information consultant for the Lewis County Senior Center in Weston where she also teaches clogging and square dancing twice a week.  She and her 90-year-old dance partner have won the Senior Olympics dance contest for the last six years.

“Dr. Abraham tells me to just keep doing what I’m doing… dancing, having regular mammograms, and so forth,” Atchison said.

The Afternoon of Enlightenment is sponsored by the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program at WVU and the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center. The event includes a light lunch for each breast cancer survivor and a guest. To RSVP, call Pam Foley at 304-598-4558 by Sept. 28.

For more information: Kim Fetty, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
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