For the sixth year running, the sun shined brightly on the more than 3000 patients, survivors, caregivers, and staff from the John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC) who gathered last month at Liberty State Park in New Jersey to celebrate life, reflect on their journey, and pay tribute to what they have achieved together.
The Village People may have provided the day’s marquee entertainment, but all those who came to the stage reiterated that it is the patients who are the real stars.
Andre Goy, MD, MS, chairman, director, and chief of the lymphoma division at JTCC, said that he drew his inspiration for the event from a patient he was treating 6 years ago who was a curator at the Statue of Liberty. Goy saw the potential in finding a way to connect both the Statue of Liberty and the beacon of hope it represents, with patients and survivors.
As Sharon Lee Parker, director of patient experience and excellence at JTCC, explained: “Dr [Andrew] Pecora and Dr Goy are big proponents of ‘the patient comes first’ and that we do whatever we can to make sure they have a more positive experience.”
Parker, herself a cancer survivor and author of Look Out Cancer, Here I Come, said that what she appreciates most about the event is how it brings all members of the JTCC community together.
“They’re seeing other patients who are surviving cancer and winning. They are meeting their doctors and nurses on a different level. They’re having music, food, dancing, camaraderie, and education. What could be better than that?”
“It’s really a celebration of our patients’ victories,” Goy concurred. “It allows our patients and their caregivers to mingle with each other and share their stories.” He added that the event also allows our staff to spend time with patients outside of the hospital, and he commended the “spectacular” nurses he works with at JTCC.
“They are great at what they do, but they are also very patient-centered. They don’t just do a job. They have a mission.”
Indeed, when a group of JTCC nurses took the stage, there was resounding applause from the standing-room-only crowd of patients, caregivers, and survivors, some of whom performed original works on stage. JTCC nurse Maureen Murphy said that although the celebration each year makes the JTCC nurses feel like “rock stars, it’s what we get from the patients that fills our hearts. The real stars of the event are and will always be our patients.”
Andrew L. Pecora, MD, FACP, CPE, chief innovations officer, professor, and vice president of cancer services at JTCC, expressed great optimism about the future.
“Unlike 30 years ago, 25 years ago, or even 5 years ago, where hope was just that—hope—now we have answers. We are peeling away the onion, we are understanding the underlying cause of this disease we call cancer, and potentially, within our lifetimes, this disease will not plague us as a people anymore.”