Cancer is a club no one wants to join.
That is what Christine Slingerland, a cancer survivor, said during her speech at the 24th Annual Cancer Survivor Celebration hosted by the New York Oncology Hematology Rexford Cancer Center at the Edison Club on Wednesday.
Although the diagnosis is devastating, she said, once you are in the club you must begin fighting. Slingerland describes battling cancer as a boxing match: You put on the gloves and jump right into the ring.
“Even though our bodies get weaker,” she said during her speech, “our spirit gets stronger each and every day.”
More than 150 people attended this year’s celebration, which had an Academy Awards theme. Survivors were treated like stars as they enjoyed food and speeches from survivors like Slingerland. Local businesses donated baskets to be raffled off and food for the event. Entertainment was provided by throat cancer survivor Guytonno Cafiero, who sang several songs as survivors danced, ate and enjoyed each other’s company.
“I think the best thing about it is the patients get to look forward to it,” said Karen Diamond, manager of the Rexford Cancer Center, “and they get to interact with each other and see each other in a venue different than the office, which is really nice, and it just brings people closer together, I think.”
George Muller, a two-time cancer survivor, also gave a speech during the event. He described battling cancer as an uphill battle, but a battle that can be won.
“The odds can be beaten,” he said.
During his speech, Muller thanked his wife of 39 years, his children, his boss and New York Oncology Hematology.
“I have not had to travel this road alone,” he said.
Phyllis McDonald, a breast cancer survivor who is finishing radiation treatment, said she was humbled by all of the courageous survivors at this year’s event.
“I have a huge appreciation for what goes into treating people,” she said, “and what people have to experience as part of their treatment.”
McDonald was diagnosed at 82 during a routine mammogram screening last winter.
“It was a really big surprise for me,” she said. “I’ve been very healthy.”
She said New York Oncology Hematology and her support group helped her get through.
“They are extremely strong,” said Carolyn Young, who works at the front desk at the Rexford practice.
Young sees many of the patients on a daily basis and gets to know them personally.
“They always come in with a smile,” she said. “They are very inspiring.”
Tom and Emily Fonda are both cancer survivors. Tom Fonda, a 44-year survivor, has been attending the Survivors Day Celebration since it began.
“Anything to make people feel better about their disease is great,” he said. “You need a good attitude and a lot of help.”
Emily Fonda is a four-time cancer survivor.
“My motto is ‘Friends, family and faith,’ ” she said, “and that has gotten me through everything.”
While music played in the background, the couple quietly held hands under the table.
Emily said they talked about relocating, but the exceptional care they received from New York Oncology Hematology made them decide to stay in the area.
“NYOH has been taking care of me since I was diagnosed 16 years ago,” she said.
Tom added, “It is a great bunch of people, a great bunch of doctors. They are just wonderful.”
Survivors were all honored with trophies.
“Our patients are our stars,” Diamond said. “Because we have the Academy Award theme, we want them to have something special.”
October will mark 25 years since the Rexford Cancer Center opened. With the exception of the first year, the Survivor’s Celebration has been held annually. The event started as an ice cream social at the center, Diamond said, but over the years has grown into a beloved annual event.
“We really enjoy doing this,” Diamond said. “It is really a labor of love.”