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December 1, 2013

Cancer Awareness: Celebration for survivors, patients, families

TERRE HAUTE — For 20 years, one annual holiday event has been celebrating life and bringing hope to those affected by cancer in the Wabash Valley.

On Sunday, about 500 people filled the Terre Haute South Vigo High School auditorium for the Hope Center Christmas Symposium, an annual Christmas celebration for cancer patients, survivors and their families.

It is an event that aims to help patients and families through a difficult time.

“Some of the patients are actively undergoing treatment right now. It can be a difficult thing. They want to feel good at Christmas time,” said Dr. Thomas Schmitz of Terre Haute Regional Hospital and an organizer of the event.

“This is a nice way to spiritually uplift them,” he said.

At the event sponsored by the Hope Cancer Center — a cancer and blood diseases care facility — and Terre Haute Regional Hospital, the attendees took part in a buffet style lunch before enjoying the entertainment inside auditorium.

“It was started 20 years ago ,” said Dr. Chandra Reddy, a physician at the Hope Center and one of the organizers, “to lift the spirits of patients who have been diagnosed with cancer and blood disease.”

Reddy said the holidays are a particularly difficult time for patients.

The event is a chance for patients to get together with their health care providers and other patients to “lift their spirits” and remind them that they are “not alone” in the cancer fight.

And because of positive feedback from patients and their families, the Hope Center hosts the program year after year, said Dr. Ashis K. Chakrabarti, co-organizer of the event and another physician at the center.

He also said support groups and survivorship are very important for cancer care.

 “It always elevates the spirit of the cancer patient when they see that there are other people like them who are fighting the same fight and surviving,” he said, and the program is an “effort to help elevate that spirit.”

Another aim is to bring hope.

Chakrabarti said there are more than 14 million cancer survivors in the U.S., either cured of cancer or in some form of remission.

The event hopes to spread the word that there is treatment for cancer out there, he said.

From the well-decorated auditorium stage, those in attendance were treated to the sounds of the season.

The first Christmas song, “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” was performed by the staff of the Hope Center and Terre Haute Regional Hospital. It was followed by the angelic voices of young Amit Chakrabarti, Adam Duschel, Billie Webb and Christiana Wiltenmyer, who sang “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night.”

Another important part of the event was a candle ceremony, which honored people who have lost their lives in the battle against cancer.

Other activities included a Tai Chi demonstration and reading of the “Christmas Story” for the children, followed by Santa’s door prizes.  

Toward the beginning of the program, two women were given a standing ovation by some members of the audience as they took the stage to share inspirational words.

Donietta Elmore, a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer back in 2012, offered words of encouragement by providing a new meaning to each letter of the word, CHRISTMAS.

“C,” she said, stands for Christ; “H” for healing and “R” for restoration. “I,” Elmore continued, is for intuition.

“Listen to your intuition,” she told the audience.

“S” is for strength, and “T” is for thankfulness, she said.

“I am thankful for modern medicine,” which she explained is what the next letter, “M,” stood for.

“A” is for awareness and finally, “S” is for symptoms. “Don’t ignore the littlest symptoms,” she advised.

Another woman, Nancy Moore, took the stage with Elmore. She worked at the Hope Center for many years and is now battling cancer herself.

The event celebrates “life, love and hope,” Moore said, adding that each patient should use his or her support system to help fight cancer.

“Let’s give thanks for all the reasons to celebrate this holiday season,” she told the audience. “No one fights alone.”

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.

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