Hundreds of cancer survivors joined friends and family on the Health Sciences Campus on Saturday, June 6, to mark the 19th Annual Festival of Life. Held by the USC Norris Cancer Hospital, the event brings together former patients for a morning of celebration and inspirational speakers.
Ira “Jack” Sloan, who was recently treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, came to celebrate with his daughters and to thank the doctors and nurses who he says went out of their way to make him comfortable. “I’m only alive because of USC and my daughters,” he said.
Guests were treated to the sounds of Disneyland’s Bayou Brass Band while they enjoyed a continental breakfast under sunny skies. Harv the Magician roved the crowd, entertaining kids with balloon animals, and numerous booths offered information on survivorship issues.
Michael DeRisi, who had been treated for kidney cancer at USC Norris, was celebrating five years of survivorship. “I’m very thankful for the incredible doctors and staff I found here at Norris,” he said.
The day included a formal program, moderated by physician, author and television personality, Art Ulene. Clare Templeman, assistant professor of obstetrics/gynecology and surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, shared her thoughts about hope as a driving force for those who work at Norris.
“To me, Norris is a community of people who provide hope … and the greatest place I’ve ever worked,” said Templeman.
Vicki Kompaniez, a USC Norris volunteer and breast cancer survivor, recalled how she left in the middle of chemotherapy at another institution to finish her treatment at USC Norris.
“I walked in to Norris and I felt like I had come home,” said Kompaniez, whose husband also was successfully treated for esophageal cancer a year earlier at USC Norris. “The care, the love, the support; from the minute you drive up at the valet … you feel nothing but taken care of.”
Chorda Tympani, a medical student barbershop quartet who entertained the crowd with their rendition of “Come Fly with Me” during the program, had a very special member among their ranks. Robert Martinez, a first-year medical student at the Keck School of Medicine, is also a former patient of USC Norris, where he was treated for colon cancer in 2004.
He lauded USC Norris as an exceptional treatment facility that treats the “whole person” with compassion. Martinez, who was inspired to study medicine because of his experience with cancer, encouraged the crowd to share their stories with others.
“Always think about the patients who are being diagnosed, how you can share your success story with them,” he said. “Focus on how you can inspire others to keep fighting, because you can easily lose track.”
At the end of the program, white doves were released as the crowd stood in unity and sang “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.”