The annual Celebrate Life at CTCA’s Midwestern Regional Medical Center brought 123 of the 310 survivors here to celebrate their triumph over cancer since they began their treatment here five years ago.
The event began Thursday evening of June 5 with a banquet at a local hotel which included giving celebrants a chance at the mic and video camera to tell their stories, many of which were shared on two large screens the next day at Celebrate Life.
Four buses delivered the celebrants and their loving families and caregivers to the large white tents set up on Shiloh Blvd. across from Shiloh pool. They were greeted by a live band and a red carpet on which to walk, as an aisle of well-wishers clapped and cheered them while they worked their way to the welcoming assembly under one of the tents.
After a prayer by CTCA’s Reverend Percy McCray and CTCA President Gerarad van Grinsven, centenarian Elsie Nelson of Zion, herself a cancer survivor of 35 years, opened the door to release five doves, symbolizing five years of survival. (The doves are really white homing pigeons that fly back to their home in Milwaukee.) Elsie Nelson had received treatment at the Zion hospital before it became Midwestern Regional Medical Center.
After adjourning for the celebrant symbolic tree-planting photos, a crowd enjoyed a wonderful luncheon and also heard congratulatory speeches from various CEOs, including founder Richard Stephenson.
As always, a tree is planted to symbolize the life of each survivor, but since the arboretum across from Midwestern Hospital is now filled, the hospital donates funds for a tree for each survivor to be planted somewhere in the U.S.
In addition, a gold-colored leaf is engraved for each 5-year celebrant for the survivor tree which is placed in the lobby of CTCA.
Ray Zukley, a retired Zion Jeweler, who also volunteers at the hospital, has engraved each leaf every year since the tradition began in 1988. This year there are 97 more survivors than last year’s total!
It takes Zukley an average of 10 to 15 minutes per leaf, depending on how many digits to the name and patient’s home town, which is also added. Last year for the 202 survivors, he spent a total of from 50 to 80 hours in this endeavor on the engraving machine, which he now has in his home. In 1988, the first year of Celebrate Life, there were 69 leaves, which has grown this year to 1602!