Celebrating life

Can­cer sur­viv­or Mel­ida Cortez points to her name on the sur­viv­or tree at Can­cer Treat­ment Cen­ters of Amer­ica, Fri­day, May 17, 2013, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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 twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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