Pamela Fauntleroy and Colleen Hofmeister were among the stars on Friday at Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Celebrate Life 2013, its annual ceremony that honors five-year survivors.
Fauntleroy and Hofmeister and about 60 other survivors, all dressed in green Celebrate Life 2013 shirts, were part of a series of activities, starting with a tree-planting and dove release. Survivors also passed along commemorative lapel pins as a symbol of hope to patients undergoing treatment. The day concluded with speeches, videos, lunch, live music and information tables. A night earlier, during a dinner celebration, the survivors received plaques.
Fauntleroy, a mother of two boys from Woolwich Township, N.J., beat breast cancer once, but it returned in 2007. She visited CTCA, at 1331 E. Wyoming Ave., and has been cancer-free for five years. She thanks God and her caregivers for her health, adding that she felt an indescribable feeling of peace the first day she walked through the doors.
“It’s like no matter the amount of rain that is falling, you are being covered under one umbrella of love,” she said.
Hofmeister, of Sayville, N.Y., was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in late 2006. She was 44 and underwent a year of treatment before an oncologist gave her four years to live. She learned of CTCA and wanted to find out more about a place that offers “hugs with their drugs.”
The first step was an orientation session. She brought her husband, who liked what he heard from the staff.
“This is where you belong,” he told her.
Today, Hofmeister is working, traveling, raising a daughter and a son and spreading her story of survival in magazine and newspaper articles and a television public service announcement.
The celebration’s theme was Living the Moments and featured plenty of similar inspirational stories.
A Bridgewater, N.J., woman has seen the birth of four grandchildren, a son graduate college, another son get married and her 40th wedding anniversary since beating uterine cancer.
A Warwick, R.I., woman with stage 4 cancer in both lungs, not to mention a fractured back, described everyone at CTCA from the floor sweepers to the doctors as “wonderful, wonderful people.” She was treated for her cancer and even had back surgery at Temple University Hospital while in town. Today, she does seemingly simple things — driving, yard work, grocery shopping, cooking, house cleaning — without assistance.
A Canandaigua, N.Y., woman with breast cancer was happy to be able to consult with a naturopathic physician and a registered dietitian in choosing supplements and healthy foods. She is able to enjoy hiking, designing and creating jewelry and spending time with loved ones without the burden of cancer.
The survivors heard from Richard Stephenson, who founded CTCA in 1988 in memory of his mother, Mary Brown Stephenson, who died of bladder cancer six years earlier.
“This is such an inspirational day for us,” he said.
Stephenson was not happy with the care his mom received, so he 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, Arizona and Georgia. There’s also an outpatient treatment and wellness center in Washington state.
The hospital’s new president and CEO, Gerard van Grinsven, was in attendance as more than 300 people gathered under a huge tent pitched in the parking lot.
Stephenson, the board chairman, received two standing ovations. He explained that the typical patient travels more than 500 miles for treatment, and that the cancer center spends a lot of money on research.
The Stephenson family is involved in a lot of business ventures, but does not consider itself in the cancer business.
“CTCA is our calling,” the hospital founder said.
Stephenson said CTCA was among the first hospitals to publish patient outcome figures. They are available at cancercenter.com
A lot of cancer centers provide good care, Stephenson acknowledged, but he is happy with the results of a patient satisfaction survey.
CTCA asks patients after their treatments are completed whether they would bring their mothers to the hospital for care.
“The answer has been a resounding, ‘Yes,’ ” Stephenson said.
Specifically, 98 percent of respondents would recommend their mothers undergo treatment at CTCA.
As for the other 2 percent, Stephenson joked that they misunderstood the question and thought they were being asked if they would recommend the quality care for their mothers-in-law. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org