Cancer patients celebrate the Big 5

Can­cer pa­tient Chiara Mor­gante (second from the right) listens to dif­fer­ent speak­ers at the an­nu­al Cel­eb­rate Life event at the Can­cer Treat­ment Cen­ters of Amer­ica. Chiara is in her fourth year of bat­tling ovari­an can­cer. She says she is hope­ful since she already beat the odds of sur­viv­al thus far, Fri­day, May 18, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

After Sherry Brit­ton was dia­gnosed with lung can­cer in Janu­ary 2007, she un­der­went four months of treat­ment at a hos­pit­al in Bangor, Maine, then traveled to a med­ic­al fa­cil­ity in Bo­ston.

Brit­ton, who had gone to the doc­tor for a chest X-ray for a slight cough, isn’t sure how she de­veloped the can­cer. She grew up in a mill town, worked in the auto­mobile in­dustry and smoked ci­gar­ettes, though she had kicked the habit 12 years earli­er.

Non­ethe­less, med­ic­al staff at both hos­pit­als agreed on her pro­gnos­is.

“They said there was noth­ing they could do,” she re­called. “They gave me eight­een months to live and sent me home to get my af­fairs in or­der. I was forty-nine at the time. That was now five years ago.”

After re­turn­ing home from that sober­ing news, Brit­ton saw a tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial for Can­cer Treat­ment Cen­ters of Amer­ica.

“What have I got to lose?” she thought to her­self.

It was Me­mori­al Day week­end, and Brit­ton ex­pec­ted to leave a mes­sage.

“Some­body live answered the phone,” she said.

On that Tues­day, the day after the hol­i­day, she was at CTCA’s Phil­adelphia hos­pit­al, at 1331 E. Wyom­ing Ave. Soon after, she began chemo­ther­apy and ra­di­ation treat­ments for non small-cell lung can­cer.

On Jan. 2, 2008, she had her last treat­ment. She’s been in re­mis­sion ever since and cred­its the tra­di­tion­al care and non-tra­di­tion­al meth­ods for her re­cov­ery.

“It was all the love and caring they give you here,” she said. “They wrap their arms around you. I took all the vit­am­ins and sup­ple­ments they re­com­men­ded and at­ten­ded laughter ther­apy classes.”

Last Fri­day, Brit­ton, now 54, traveled from her home in Lin­coln, Maine, to at­tend Cel­eb­rate Life 2012, CTCA’s an­nu­al ce­re­mony that hon­ors five-year can­cer sur­viv­ors.

Richard Steph­en­son foun­ded Can­cer Treat­ment Cen­ters of Amer­ica in 1988 in memory of his moth­er, Mary Brown Steph­en­son, who died of can­cer six years earli­er.

Steph­en­son was not happy with the care his mom re­ceived and im­ple­men­ted what he called the “Moth­er Stand­ard.” All em­ploy­ees are ex­pec­ted to care for pa­tients the way they’d want their moth­ers treated.

Today, there are CTCA hos­pit­als in Phil­adelphia, Illinois, Ok­lahoma and Ari­zona, with a fifth soon to open in Geor­gia. There’s also an out­pa­tient treat­ment and well­ness cen­ter in the state of Wash­ing­ton.

The hos­pit­al’s motto is, “Care That Nev­er Quits.”

Be­fore last week’s cel­eb­ra­tion, there were tree-plant­ing and dove-re­lease ce­re­mon­ies. In ad­di­tion, sur­viv­ors and their care­givers were giv­en com­mem­or­ative lapel pins to pass along as a sym­bol of hope to pa­tients cur­rently un­der­go­ing treat­ment at CTCA.

Brit­ton and sev­er­al dozen oth­er sur­viv­ors were re­cog­niz­able in their blue shirts.

Yusuf Lee, 68, traveled from Cali­for­nia with his wife Dar­cel to be at the ce­re­mony. He was dia­gnosed with pro­state can­cer in Novem­ber 2007 while at his doc­tor’s of­fice for what he thought was a routine colono­scopy.

At the time, he was liv­ing in New York. He be­lieved that doc­tors there were rush­ing him in­to sur­gery. He wanted to weigh his op­tions.

Ul­ti­mately, he ar­rived at CTCA’s Phil­adelphia hos­pit­al for treat­ment and liked his deal­ings with med­ic­al staff mem­bers.

“I was nervous, but they said, ‘You have a choice. Let us go through the op­tions, and it’s whatever you de­cide,’ ” he said of the ex­per­i­ence. “I felt em­powered.”

Nor­ris­town’s Her­bert “The Puzzle Man” Brown was dia­gnosed with pro­state can­cer in 2006 after un­der­go­ing emer­gency sur­gery on his gall­blad­der. Forty-three ra­di­ation treat­ments later, the former box­er was can­cer-free and “float­ing like a but­ter­fly and sting­ing like a bee.”

After re­tir­ing from 38-plus years with the U.S. Postal Ser­vice, he began to vo­lun­teer at the hos­pit­al. His many du­ties in­clude work­ing on jig­saw puzzles with pa­tients and put­ting smiles on their faces.

“We’re more than a team. We’re a fam­ily,” he said.

The May 18 ce­re­mony fea­tured a live band, dan­cing and lunch.

Em­cee Mar­ilyn Rus­sell, the morn­ing show host on 95.7 BEN FM, ac­know­ledged the passing of disco mu­sic su­per­star Donna Sum­mer, who died of lung can­cer a day earli­er. Rus­sell also bor­rowed a line from the sta­tion by la­beling the CTCA event a “Feel Good Fri­day” mo­ment.

Sur­viv­ors thanked every­one from the lim­ousine driver who picked them up at the air­port to fam­ily care­givers to med­ic­al staff to the cha­ris­mat­ic Steph­en­son to God. They an­nounced their names on stage be­fore re­ceiv­ing a plaque from Steph­en­son and John McNeil, pres­id­ent and CEO of the Phil­adelphia hos­pit­al.

Steph­en­son, the board chair­man, said CTCA’s com­pet­i­tion is not oth­er hos­pit­als, but can­cer it­self. He noted that the hos­pit­al puts its res­ults on­line at can­cer­cen­

The staff tells the truth to pa­tients, and there is no bur­eau­cracy.

“It’s not about in­sur­ance com­pan­ies. It’s not about reg­u­lat­ors,” Steph­en­son said, adding the com­pany slo­gan, “It is al­ways, and only, about the pa­tient.”

Steph­en­son is happy that 98 per­cent of pa­tients sur­veyed in­dic­ated that they would re­com­mend CTCA to their moth­ers. He joked that the oth­er 2 per­cent mis­un­der­stood the ques­tion and thought they were asked if they’d re­com­mend CTCA to their moth­ers-in-law.

Can­cer does not have to be a death sen­tence, Steph­en­son said. Be­fore treat­ments be­gin, each pa­tient is giv­en hope.

“Hope costs noth­ing to give, but is price­less to re­ceive,” he said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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