Sunday, September 30, 2012

Life and Liberty: Celebrated in Style

This post will also appear on the John Theurer Cancer Center's blog.

This afternoon, the John Theurer Cancer Center threw a party to celebrate the “C” Word. Community, that is—not Cancer. Four thousand patients, supporters, and JTCC staff gathered at Liberty State Park for the Fourth Annual Celebrating Life and Liberty event. The lawn in front of the expansive, white tent provided stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The patriotic theme embodies the JTCC community; the composition of the gathering was as diverse as our country, and all of the partiers had one thing in common: the pursuit of happiness, and life. For the second year, my husband and I felt honored to belong to this home of the brave.

For our family, the excitement began in the parking lot. My three year old loved riding on the yellow school bus to the festival grounds. Although the transportation hadn’t been intended as part of the entertainment, the outcome was consistent with our experience with my treatment for AML at JTCC. Ever since my extended hospital stay, my doctors, nurses, and the other staff members have taken an interest in my daughter, and they communicate their empathy for how important being a mother is to me.

After registering, we followed the red carpet to the entrance of the tent. The prominent walk had been laid both for the survivors and for Aretha Franklin. My daughter, in her red tulle skirt, did the strutting for our family. Somewhat embarrassingly, I already was focused on gathering our raffle tickets and locating the prize tables.

Inside and around the high-ceilinged tent, the party hummed. Survivors and supporters enjoying their lunch occupied most of the tables. Atop the shiny green or aqua blue tablecloths sat centerpieces consisting of multiple potted plants, which would be divided amongst the survivors at the end of the event. (Last year, we brought home two seedling pine trees, which are growing in our backyard.) Near the stage, a concentration of people had gathered in anticipation of the Diva’s performance for the small crowd in the intimate setting.

Before I could scope out the raffle prizes, my daughter steered me to the balloon artists. She chose a green snake with a long pink tongue. She knew I’d been sick, but she has no understanding of cancer; to her, this was simply a great party (Did I mention “school bus”?). Next we visited the Statue of Liberty drawing station for children. While scribbling on her sheet, she asked me to draw her snake. Then she asked me to add the statue. Below is the result:

With all the support/informational tables to peruse and the fellowship with other families, we barely had time to enjoy the food. I made new friends and connected with patients whom I’d met through JTCC activities like the art classes.  My husband, daughter, and I had our picture taken with the Statue of Liberty in the background. I’d saved our photo, in its JTCC card frame, from last year. As the years pass, we will continue to add to our collection of proof that our family has survived cancer, thanks to Dr. Goldberg and the rest of the JTCC staff.

The celebration had been crackling with energy and hope, but things really cranked up when “The Queen of Soul” arrived. She wore a white sequined gown that reflected neon pink and blue spotlights. Her powerful voice filled the park and the souls of everyone present. Her dress shimmered, and I thought to myself: “That is the color of heaven.” The crowd whooped it up, with many of those seated around the tables chair-dancing and the crowd behind them just as lively. No one minded the rain that poured down the sides of the tent roof. By the time Aretha had finished singing, the sun had returned.

Did we win a raffle prize? No, but there’s always next year. I love saying that.