WILLIAMSPORT — No matter what is going on in someone’s life, one six-letter word has the power to bring it all crashing down. Or at least it might seem like it.
That word is “cancer.”
“It can be pretty intense,” said Dr. Dan Cornell, director of radiation oncology at John R. Marsh Cancer Center. “Obviously, coming down with cancer can be a very difficult thing to deal with.”
But the most important things when dealing with cancer, according to a pair of local survivors, is to act quickly, remember that you are not alone and always focus on the positives.
At first, “you’re really thinking, ‘Is my life over?’” said Paul Barr, 65, a seven-year survivor of bladder cancer. “But the thing I found out with cancer is you’ve got to go after it. You can’t sit back and wait.”
Both Williamsport natives, Barr and Esther L. Hoover, a six-month survivor of breast cancer, were not alone on Sunday, either.
They were just two of about 970 cancer survivors who attended the cancer center’s annual Celebration of Life picnic at The Improved Order of Red Men’s grounds off Lappans Road near Williamsport.
“You feel alone when you start, but you are not alone,” said Hoover, 61, who was diagnosed in November, and is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“There’s so many people out there. It’s unbelievable, just unbelievable — the support,” she said. “And I call them little angels because I think they are.”
Along with family, staff and volunteers, more than 1,000 people attended this year’s event, said Susan Lopp, administrative director of the cancer center.
“It’s a great opportunity to see our patients and celebrate life,” she said.
The cancer center, part of Meritus Health, has held the picnic for more than the past two decades on National Cancer Survivors Day, the first Sunday in June, Lopp said.
Attendees spent the afternoon sharing stories, eating fried chicken and blowing bubbles as a symbol of their freedom since overcoming various afflictions. Door prizes also were awarded.
“We’re so happy so many people are surviving cancer today,” Lopp said. “It’s great to see them all and have a chance to all get together.”
Hoover said her battle began when she least expected it.
“I was on a month vacation from work and it didn’t turn out to be the vacation I was expecting,” she said. “I took a whole month off and started this, instead of my actual vacation ... But God’s brought me through it and I know I’m going to make it.”
Through it all, Hoover said the outpouring of support from friends, family and coworkers has been amazing. She’s received gift baskets, cards and letters of well wishes.
“They haven’t stopped coming in,” said Hoover, adding that staff at the cancer center have been “phenomenal” since her diagnosis. “You can just feel that support. I’m very, very blessed.”
Barr, who was diagnosed in 2005 at age 58, said “once you’re diagnosed with cancer, you really have a different outlook on life.”
The negatives might start in the forefront of your mind, he said, but “there sure have been a lot of positives since.”
“Life is great,” Barr said. “I want to see a lot more of it.”
Barr said he has been coming to the picnic for about the past five years, adding that it gets bigger each year.
“This is just a testament to the people who have survived cancer,” he said. “You don’t have to die from cancer. You can survive. All these people are survivors, so that’s a testament.”