Thirteen Lake County residents were among the 124 five-year cancer survivors who celebrated life recently at Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion.
The 2014 Celebrate Life ceremony marked the 26th year that a tree has been planted in honor of each five-year survivor.
“It’s a party atmosphere,” said hospital spokesman Bill Kelly, who helped organize the event. “They come there ready to have fun, to meet people who have gone through similar experiences.
“A lot of them know each other since they were in treatment around the same time,” he said.
“It’s amazing the festive atmosphere it brings out in everybody.”
Kelly said many of the five-year cancer survivors become members of the hospital’s Cancer Fighters team “where they share with other cancer patients and survivors about their experiences and help them and guide them — any way they can share.”
The red carpet literally was rolled out at Celebrate Life. The event included a luncheon for survivors and family members. A dinner with entertainment was held the night before at the Gurnee Holiday Inn.
After the Celebrate Life event, many of the survivors visited cancer patients in the hospital, “to talk with them and share experiences with them and give their support — it can be a smile, a handshake a hug,” Kelly said.
Kelly created a booklet for the attendees that included information about what each survivor has done in the past five years. “It could be running a marathon, holding a new grandchild. They love relating to one another,” he said.
“It was such blessing to be part of,” said Sally Falknor, a five-year breast cancer survivor from Grayslake who also works at the hospital.
“It’s so wonderful, so inspirational, and the only reason you’re crying is because you feel so blessed and amazed,” she said. “There’s nothing somber about it. It’s all about celebrating life every day.”
Falknor said she is in a unique position, having been an employee and a patient at the hospital.
“I can attest to patients truly how great it is here, how wonderful, kind and helpful everybody truly is, and how they give you the care that we claim to give. I’m a testament to it all,” she said.
“I’m in the scheduling department. When I schedule my patients, and I tell them how things really are here. I can speak from experience.”
Falknor said she’ll turn 60 in October. “I’m pretty pumped about that. You wouldn’t think so, but I am.”
“I’m excited, joyful and happy,” said Johnny Page, 73, of Waukegan, a five-year prostate cancer survivor. “I’m glad to be alive.”
“You’re just like family there,” he said of the treatment at the hospital. “It’s a top-notch place.”
Page attended the event with his wife, Willodean, two children, and four grandchildren.
“It was uplifting,” Willodean said.
Other five-year cancer survivors at the event from Lake County were Theresa Segal of Lake Villa, Delora English of Beach Park, Sarah Lopez of Beach Park, Ira Jefferies of Zion, Susan Owenson of Zion, Joy Smith of Waukegan, Jeanette Keyes of Waukegan, Kathleen Goodwin of Waukegan, Claude Brooks of Waukegan, Leopoldo Celicious of Gurnee and Nida Rosales of Winthrop Harbor.
Participants represented 41 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Three hundred cancer survivors were recognized, including those who could not attend the event. A tree in honor of each of the 300 survivors will be planted somewhere in the U.S. in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation.
Each celebrant also was honored with an engraved gold leaf, which is displayed on one of three “trees of life” located in the hospital.
Falknor said visiting patients after the ceremony was a special part of the day.
“They give us pins and we walk around the hospital and pick out patients who are going through treatment and present them with a pin and explain our story. The point is to pass on hope to them that hopefully in a couple years, they will be celebrating life as well.”