Opinion

Resiliency, perspective in face of cancer

John Hillson, a Duke nurse, leads a tai chi class during the Duke Cancer Institute's annual Supportive Care and Survivorship Day on Wednesday June 7, 2017, in Durham, NC. The event was an opportunity for Duke cancer patients, survivors and caregivers to enjoy a wide variety of services aimed at enhancing wellness and well-being including: complimentary makeovers, wig styling, massage therapy, tai chi, guided meditation, cooking demonstrations and skin care consultations.
John Hillson, a Duke nurse, leads a tai chi class during the Duke Cancer Institute's annual Supportive Care and Survivorship Day on Wednesday June 7, 2017, in Durham, NC. The event was an opportunity for Duke cancer patients, survivors and caregivers to enjoy a wide variety of services aimed at enhancing wellness and well-being including: complimentary makeovers, wig styling, massage therapy, tai chi, guided meditation, cooking demonstrations and skin care consultations. ctoth@heraldsun.com

This has been a grim week in many ways – news doesn’t get much more dispiriting than an innocent 7-year-old fatally shot while riding home from a trip to the pool.

Still, while violence may too often mar our city, it does not define it. There were far happier scenes in the past week.

One of the more heartwarming events each year is the Duke Cancer Center’s Supportive Care and Survivorship Day. First of all, it’s a reminder that we’re fortunate to live in the shadow of one of the nation’s premier cancer research and treatment centers (with another top-tier center just nine miles away).

But it also is a reminder of the resiliency of the human spirit, and of people’s capacity for generosity and concern.

For resiliency, consider Ben Norris, who spoke with The Herald-Sun’s Ana Irizarry at the event.

Norris is an 83-year-old cancer survivor who has jumped out of planes and driven NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon’s car at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. He’s not finished with those adventures, either. “Next I want to go to Daytona where they have a faster track,” he said.

For generosity, consider Jared Lazarus who works for Duke Photography and who wanted to photograph people with cancer in a way to reflect who they are aside from the disease. His work – encouraged when, after he began, doctors discovered a benign tumor in his daughter – created a photo exhibit that was featured at the survivorship day Wednesday. Norris was among those depicted.

“I thought I would be inspiring cancer patients,” Lazarus said. “But instead they changed my life.”

Throughout the day, patients, survivors and caregivers enjoyed cooking demonstrations, makeovers and health classes.

And they celebrated. “This day is huge on celebrating our patients and the journey they have gone through,” said Kristy Everette, coordinator for the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program.

Earnestine Goods was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, and is now cancer free. The day, she said, “makes you feel good about yourself. It makes you feel like you’re blessed to have survived and to thrive, and you just feel good.”

Cancer, for all the advances in detection and treatment, many of them driven by work at Duke, is still a disease that strikes a certain amount of dread. It is one of the leading causes of death, and a diagnosis can impact not just a patient but an entire family.

So the spirit and the courage of those who celebrated on Wednesday should be an inspiration to all of us, and perhaps for many it might serve to put in perspective the petty annoyances and setbacks that can afflict almost any day.

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