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Family of cancer survivors celebrates life

June 06, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE

WILLIAMSPORT -- A total of 900 people were expected and 600 to 700 were estimated to have attended on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Not bad for a "family" reunion that doesn't have the traditional blood ties.

"It's become a family in the sense that you're all having the same battle to fight," said Blanton Croft, 76, of Maugansville.

Croft was one of many cancer survivors attending the John R. Marsh Cancer Center's Celebration of Life picnic at The Improved Order of Red Men's grounds off Lappans Road near Williamsport on Sunday.

As cancer survivors, they share their struggles and victories, said Croft, a seven-year survivor of prostate cancer.

Blanton said he attends the annual picnic because he likes the fellowship, food, fun and frivolity.

"We have friends that come every year," he said.

They include Shirley Elliott, 61, of Clear Spring. Elliott calls herself a "double survivor" because she is a 24-year colon cancer survivor and a 17-year breast cancer survivor.

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"It really makes us appreciate doctors and the staff, and what they do for you," Elliott said.

The cancer center at Robinwood Medical Center is part of Washington County Health System. The cancer center, and before it the hospital, has been holding the picnic for more than 20 years to give survivors a chance to get together with their doctors and celebrate life, said Susan Lopp, the center's administrative director. The picnic was held on National Cancer Survivors Day.

Dr. Frederic Kass, an oncologist and the center's medical director, said the event gives survivors, their families and the medical staff a chance to see each other in a nonstressful environment.

"People look forward to this all year," Kass said.

Strong bonds are developed during treatment, he said.

The gathering also gives people hope that the future might be bright for them, Kass said.

Joy Judd, 78, of Charles Town, W.Va., is a two-year lymphoma survivor and her husband, Horace, is a 19-year prostate cancer survivor, she said.

This was the first time Joy Judd attended the picnic. She said she wanted to see how many people survived cancer.

Richard Baker, 72, of Smithsburg, also was attending his first Celebration of Life picnic.

He was diagnosed with melanoma on his back last September, he said. He said he might have gotten it from his younger days, when he went shirtless while mowing grass.

"I wouldn't think about it now," said Baker, who now wears a shirt and suntan lotion when he mows.

Cancer survivor Hedy Gesford, 74, of Hagerstown, attended the picnic with her husband, Roy, because of the fellowship.

"It's such a nice affair," she said.

Croft's wife, Betty, said the "cancer family" appreciates and enjoys life more. Survivors do things they might not have done otherwise because they realize life is short, she said.

The Crofts travel more, she said.

Life has a tendency to set you apart, she said, but now the couple is enjoying family and friends more.

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