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Cancer survivors enjoy their day

June 06, 1999

Cancer survivorsBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: MARLA BROSE / staff photographer




She lost her job and father the same year doctors diagnosed her cancer, but Sandra Huntsberger didn't let depression destroy her.

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After breast surgery May 8, 1998, Huntsberger had four chemotherapy and 36 radiation treatments.

"The chemo was really bad," the 51-year-old Hagerstown resident said. "It seemed like no matter what they gave me I was nauseated for seven or eight days after."

She received the radiation alone in a large room, surrounded by machines. She knew cameras and microphones monitored her, but they were no comfort in the isolation.

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"I felt really vulnerable," she said.

Sunday she smiled as 10 friends and family members accompanied her to Family Recreation Park. Their love and support carried her through the ordeal, Huntsberger said.

She joined about 750 people who attended the 12th annual National Cancer Survivors Day celebration at the park southeast of Hagerstown.

She was one of 222 survivors at the event, which had a carnival theme this year. Survivors and their guests could enjoy go-cart races, bingo, bumper boats and a chance to throw water balloons at cancer doctors in the "water wars" booth.

"It's a way to bring folks together and celebrate life," said Cassandra Latimer, spokeswoman for the Washington County Health System, one of the event sponsors.

"We see it as an opportunity for fellowship," said Latimer. "When you come in and get treatments, you probably don't interact with other patients."

All of the survivors attending the event were diagnosed or treated in Washington County, most of them at the Robinwood Medical Center's John R. Marsh Cancer Center.

There are more than 4,000 survivors living in the county, according to Dawn Johns, a radiation therapist who served as the event's chairwoman. The annual event has grown steadily, she said.

"We have more newcomers (this year) than we've ever had," she said.

The picnic and carnival are free to survivors and guests pay a $5 fee, but sponsors absorb more than half the cost of the event, according to Latimer. "It's a goodwill effort," she said.

For the first time this year, the event included some fund-raising booths for the Shirley B. Robison Fund. For a quarter a ticket, guests played games such as ring toss, pick up ducks and bean bag toss to benefit the fund.

Robison, a longtime Hagerstown resident, died at 61 after battling two types of cancer for 11 years. "She encouraged other patients not to give up," said Latimer.

The fund is administered by Robison's family. It is used to help patients with needs not covered by insurance, such as rent or college tuition. The money has been used to send a young boy to an Orioles game, according to Robison's daughter, Jesse Kretzer. And it once paid a woman's veterinary bills so she could keep her dog.

"It's neat to help in really unusual ways," Kretzer said. To contribute to the fund or apply for assistance, call 1-301-790-8690.

As children played and the bingo caller's voice echoed in the pavilion, survivors like Huntsberger shared stories of hope. Cancer helped her appreciate living, she said.

"It makes you think more seriously about what you have and your values," she said. "It makes you enjoy your life, because next time you may not be so lucky."

Edwin Kemp, a 91-year-old retired accountant, has been treated for prostate, bladder and skin cancer. One round of radiation gave him internal bleeding and he once visited the hospital 13 times in 12 months.

But Kemp still plays tennis often and the spark of optimism fills his eyes. "I think anybody can do it if I can do it," he said. "Just take things as they come, that's the only thing you can do."

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