A Celebration of Life
Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, addresses 19th annual Celebration of Life.
Cancer survivors, patients, caregivers, family and friends gathered on the Harvard Medical School Quadrangle to celebrate a grand accomplishment: life itself.
More than 600 people attended BIDMC's 19th annual Celebration of Life where they shared stories of strength and perseverance and learned about new research and important discoveries.
"The sunshine here today makes it that much more wonderful to celebrate life with everyone," said Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, the manager of BIDMC's social work oncology program and two-time breast cancer survivor who organizes and hosts the celebration.
"I'm struck by how amazing and inspiring this event is. It is a celebration of education, life and most of all, community," said Kevin Tabb, MD, BIDMC's President and CEO.
A variety of 22 workshops focusing on topics such as nutrition, spiritual healing, sexuality and new treatment options for different cancers allowed attendees to learn more and share experiences. "I was really optimistic when a man told me he appreciated my comments after the workshop," said one breast cancer survivor. "I'm in wonderful surroundings and I feel uplifted."
Attendees are heard about "Science and the Future at BIDMC: A Panel of Cancer Researchers," in the morning and a breast cancer symposium in the afternoon.
Like birthdays and anniversaries, Celebration of Life is an annual event to look forward to and a way to mark another year of life. Many of the attendees form or rekindle friendships that began during treatments in various clinics. Many BIDMC nurses also attend as a way of staying in touch with patient's whose lives they have touched and who in turn inspire them.
A highlight to this year's event was a survivor's panel, where those who have beaten or who are living with cancer shared their personal accounts. Three years ago, Mark Leppo, one of six panelists, noticed a lump on his right ankle while exercising. A dermatologist referred him to the Cancer Center at BIDMC where he received treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare form of skin cancer. After radiation, the tumor shrunk, but returned in his right calf shortly after.
"I underwent chemo for three months," said Leppo, a native of Stoughton. "I was extremely optimistic, but a realist at the same time." During treatment Leppo found time and strength to travel with his wife and to organize two spin-a-thons at the Stoughton YMCA, which raised more than $75,000, to send children to summer camp. In September 2011, Leppo received the news that his tumors were gone.
Carmen Johnson, a 13-year metastatic breast cancer survivor, inspired others to weaken cancer's power by living in the present. "Keep in mind this is a celebration of life," she said. "I like to put cancer behind me and make it take a backseat. I encourage all of you to make it take a backseat."