Welcoming more than 400 cancer survivors to Memorial Sloan Kettering’s celebration of National Survivorship Day on June 16, Memorial Hospital Physician-in-Chief Robert E. Wittes said that the word “survivor” did not quite do justice to those in attendance. “I wish there were a better term in the English language that emphasized activism and your ability to move forward in scary situations and do what you have to do,” he told the audience in the Rockefeller Research Laboratories Auditorium. “Today we take our hats off to you and say, ’You did it.’”
Dr. Wittes praised the work of Mary McCabe, Director of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Cancer Survivorship Initiative, who in turn introduced two Memorial Sloan Kettering survivors to share their perspectives. Samantha Eisenstein Watson, a survivor of Ewing sarcoma, explained, “I’m not glad I got cancer, but I’m incredibly lucky to have somehow landed right where I am today.” Ms. Watson is the Executive Director and founder of the SAMFund (Surviving and Moving Forward), a nonprofit organization that helps young adult survivors of cancer transition into post-treatment life with financial assistance in the form of grants and scholarships.
Duane Bailey-Castro, a contributing editor for Memorial Sloan Kettering’s survivorship newsletter Bridges, said his battle with Hodgkin lymphoma had strengthened his resolve to overcome fear and take risks. He noted that “thanks to the amazing physicians and staff at this fine institution,” he was about to embark on a tour of Asia, “shaky legs and all.”
Keynote speaker and NBC Today Show host Hoda Kotb reflected on her diagnosis of breast cancer in 2007 and the insights she gained from the experience, including the realization that not one moment of her life should be wasted. “I hold on tightly to the things I love and get rid of the things I don’t,” she said.
The program concluded with a reception and information sessions that addressed aspects of life after cancer. The next morning on the Today Show, Ms. Kotb mentioned her participation in the event and showed two photos from the celebration.