Cancer Treatment Centers of America hosted its Celebrate Life event, where cancer survivors returned to encourage current patients undergoing the same journey.
When her daughters were just 1 and 2 years old, Christine Bray was told she had one month of active life left.
She was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer, and had exhausted care options near her Virginia home. She started making three-hour trips to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, 1331 E. Wyoming Ave., where doctors were able to turn her diagnosis around.
About four years ago, Bray had been at CTCA during its annual Celebrate Life event, in which survivors return to the center to tell their stories to current patients. One tradition is for the survivors to give pins to patients, who would hopefully one day be able to pass it along.
Last Friday, Bray came full circle. CTCA held its annual celebration, where she got to find her golden “survivor leaf” on a tree presentation displayed in one of the building’s hallways. Her daughters Anna and Bethan, now 9 and 10, got to help.
“It was such a big memory in my mind of them coming around with the pins,” she said. “I held on to my hope pin all these years.”
The Celebrate Life event honored nearly 150 survivors who were treated at CTCA and reached their five-year survivor milestone. About 65 of the survivors and their family members made it to the event to participate in “hope rounds,” where they visit the hospital rooms of current patients to encourage them, like Bray.
Now that Bray has found herself on the other side, she has some advice for current patients.
“I’d say first of all, not to give up,” she said. “I’d like to say they’re not a statistic. I think I fell in the trap of lumping myself into statistics. Everyone’s an individual, and everyone has a personal journey.”
Guests gathered at the treatment center in the morning for breakfast and then went into the decorated lobby to hear Vice Chairman of the CTCA National Board Darren Keller speak.
“Reaching such a significant moment of your lives does not come without strength, hope and determination,” he said. “I know you hold all these moments close to your heart, and I encourage you to share them with fellow survivors and those currently in treatment.”
The tradition is one of CEO Nancy Hesse’s favorite days of the year. Hesse has seen the effects cancer can have firsthand with both of her parents and two sisters-in-law.
“It’s a battle,” she said. “I want to be part of making a very difficult and challenging health care situation become better for patients.”
Northeast resident Maritza Ortiz was among those celebrating five years of being cancer free.
“It gives myself encouragement by encouraging someone else that there’s hope for them,” she said. “There’s new technology and medicine, so there’s a lot of hope for them.”
Ortiz had breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. Her cancer was caught in an early stage, and she received urgency and care to prevent the problem from worsening.
“Be patient, because it’s a long process,” she advised current patients. Her journey continues to this day as she continues to treat side effects from radiation and chemotherapy, and she receives physical and occupational therapy.
The event typically features a tree planting and a dove release, which were canceled due to the rain this year. ••