BRISTOL – While some cancer survivors may never want to even hear the C word again, many embrace the courageous journey they took to beat the dreaded disease by celebrating their resilience and strength.
Such a group was in attendance Thursday evening at the DoubleTree by Hilton for the annual “Cancer Survivorship Event: Celebrating You,” which is hosted by Bristol Hospital’s Cancer Care Center and the Beekley Center for Breast Health and Wellness. About 150 people were in attendance, the largest the event has ever been.
“We outgrew our space at the hospital,” said Jeannie Robbins, director of the cancer center and the Beekley center. “This is the first time we’ve had a keynote speaker, an internationally acclaimed one.”
“We’re just excited,” Robbins added, as cancer survivors made their way into the ballroom at the DoubleTree for a night filled with music, food and inspirational words.
Robbins was referring to Carol Ann Manzi, an internationally acclaimed operatic soprano who survived breast cancer at the age of 34, as the keynote speaker.
“I’ve had a really hard journey,” said Manzi, who was doing opera performances just three months into her chemotherapy.
One of Manzi’s main messages for those affected by cancer is to not stop living their lives.
“You don’t have to wait until you’re done with chemo or you’re in remission to celebrate your life,” she said.
Manzi added that those battling cancer need time to grieve.
“People expect you to be the same, but you’re different,” the singer said.
Beating cancer, Manzi said, “takes a lot of strength,” adding that she takes pride in delivering “messages of courage, strength, comfort and hope.”
Mary Lynn Gagnon, executive director of the Bristol Hospital Development Foundation, which funded the celebration event, holds a special place in her heart for this particular event, as she also beat cancer.
“I just think it’s an important part of the whole journey for someone who survived cancer,” she said of the celebration involved in beating such a disease. “It really has a special place for me.”
Gagnon added that she was fortunate enough to not need chemotherapy or radiation treatments. She said she has “immense” feelings and respect for survivors who had to undergo the difficult treatments.
Kathy Albano, breast health program coordinator and navigator at Beekley, added that several vendors on Thursday offered a number of wellness approaches such as yoga, physical therapy, massage therapy and others, all aimed at cancer survivorship.
Albano also said she has gotten tremendous feedback from survivors who have attended the annual event in the past.
“For most people, it’s a celebration,” Albano said.