Cancer Center At Overlook Celebrates Survivorship, Looks Ahead To More Birthdays

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SUMMIT – The Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Hospital celebrated the progress made in cancer survivorship at events throughout the month of June with a mix of reflection on survivors’ experiences and looking forward to more birthdays and longer lives.

Overlook held its annual Survivor Celebration of Life on June 5, in conjunction with the 9th Annual Berkeley Heights Relay For Life. Overlook held a catered reception to honor cancer survivors with musical entertainment. More than 250 people, including 70 survivors, attended. The theme for the event was “Imagine a World with more Birthdays.”

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Teams from Overlook Hospital also took part in the Relay for Life in Madison on Friday, June 25. In the Relay, the American Cancer Society’s primary fundraiser, teams of people register to take turns walking or running around a track or path during the events, which are overnight and can last up to 24 hours. Each year, more than 3.5 million people in 5,000 communities in the United States, along with additional communities in 20 other countries, gather to take part in the global effort to raise much-needed funds and awareness to save lives from cancer.

Julie DiGioia, MD, a breast cancer surgeon at Overlook Hospital, was a featured speaker at both events. She was joined at the walks by a team which included nurses and colleagues from Overlook, including her husband, Dr. Stephen Hall, a reconstructive surgeon at Overlook. Dr. DiGioia described going from the experience of being a physician honored for her expertise in the field of breast cancer diagnosis and surgical treatment by the American Cancer Society in 1998 to being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and entering the experience of a survivor.

“Suddenly, I was no longer the expert, but a confused and frightened mom, knowing the facts of my diagnosis, and yet fearful of the journey I knew I would have to take,” DiGioia said. “All of a sudden, I had to learn a whole new language and find a whole new way of looking at breast cancer from the most knowledgeable perspective of all, as a patient. And indeed, it was the education I received from my patients, their courage and humor, their faith in God and their love of their families that we all celebrate today.”

Dr. DiGioia has been chosen to receive the “Luster for Life” award for cancer survivors from the ACS this year.

The featured survivor speaker for the June 5 event was Sherry Kellner, of Warren, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2009 and treated at the then-newly opened Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Hospital.

Rather than discuss the details of her diagnosis and treatment, Kellner chose to note that each survivor’s experience is different from others, and that her cancer became something that has had a lasting, changing effect on her life.

“Just as the person I was after I graduated college, after I was married, after I became a mother, after my parents died, was a different from the person I was before each of these events, I’m a different person now than I was before my diagnosis,” Kellner said. “Not new, not necessarily better … just different. Cancer is yet another event in my personal history that has shaped who I am.”

Kellner described how she felt as her treatment was coming to an end. Her family and friends felt this was a time for celebration. She, on the other hand, felt rather depressed, dubbing it, “my almost-finished funk.” She emphasized that the cancer experience does not end with treatment.

“As we get close to the finish line, the emotional armor and blinders that we use to get us through the experience come off, allowing us to begin to process what we’ve been through,” Kellner said.

“The good news in all of this is that I was exactly where I was supposed to be,” Kellner told the audience. “The bad news was that I sat with all these feelings for a long time. The best news is that I’m ready to move on. After all, I am a survivor, just like you.”

Kellner noted good advice she received – that self-care is a crucial part of recovery – and bad advice – that she might not need a support group – and emphasized the sustaining value of humor, noting, “I am especially nice to people who poke me with needles.”

Survivorship, or living with cancer, is a major consideration in every aspect of the services offered at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Hospital. The center offers numerous support groups that cater individually to survivors of different cancers and their loved ones.

The center also offers guidance for survivors and their family in the form of counselors and patient navigators, who help patients to better understand their cancer experiences, treatment, and the resources available to them.

Recognizing the importance in restoring physical fitness after cancer treatment, the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center also offers a specialized exercise program for survivors. In June, the American College of Sports Medicine issued guidelines that recommended that cancer survivors should perform the same amount of exercise as the average person, or about 2 1/2 hours a week.

For more information about the services offered at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Hospital, visit http://www.atlantichealth.org/Simon/Patient+Care+Services/Cancer+Care+at+Overlook+Hospital


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