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Cancer survivors celebrate with laughter, gratitude and friendship

September 13, 2016

Hundreds of former and current cancer patients gathered in Hartford and Meriden over the weekend to celebrate their journeys to recovery, and share their experiences with others who have walked the same path.

At the annual “Celebrate Life” Survivors Day gathering at the Hartford Marriott on Saturday, more than 300 patients who have received care at the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital enjoyed a ceremony highlighted by keynote speaker Gina Barecca, a noted humorist, author, columnist and University of Connecticut professor who emphasized the importance of a sense of humor.

“A sense of humor will help you survive because as we all know, tomorrow is promised to no one,” said Barreca, who spoke about the devastation she felt when her mother died of cancer while still in her 40s. Mixing a sense of tragic loss with uproarious humor, Barreca shared stories of her upbringing in Brooklyn and how her tight-knit family helped her keep her sense of humor despite the heartache of her mother’s loss.

The celebration also featured words of welcome from leaders within the HHC Cancer Institute, including Andrew Salner, MD, medical director of the Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center at Hartford Hospital, and Donna Handley, vice president of operations for the Cancer Institute.

“We always look forward to this event every year because it gives us a chance to honor each and every one of you,” Handley said. “For those of you who are recently diagnosed, you can see that there is an amazing community of love and support here for you.”

On Sunday, the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at MidState Medical Center held its annual Survivors Day event at Hubbard Park in Meriden, where more than 250 people gathered to celebrate their journey and enjoy an afternoon of “groovy” music and camaraderie.

 With a theme of “Peace, Love and Survivorship,” the event was filled with tie dye, fun activities, lunch and guest speakers. Music was provided by the band A Few of Us, which includes employees at the MidState cancer center. Band member Denise Jones-Gagne, Central Region program coordinator for the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, said that it was wonderful to see how many volunteers from the hospital staff were able to attend.

“We had all kinds of volunteers from several different departments at MidState which was just awesome,” said Jones-Gagne. “It’s a big deal for the patients, survivors and caregivers to be able to come out to this big celebration and see the staff outside of the hospital.”

The celebration, which included a moment of remembrance for the lives that were lost on Sept. 11, 2001, featured guest speakers Bob Larkin and Aziz Benbrahim, MD, FACS, FASMBS. Dr. Benbrahim shared his experiences as a caregiver for a loved one who was battling cancer and how it inspired him to help all survivors. Larkin, who is a 26-year cancer survivor, spoke of how grateful he was for all of the assistance and treatment he received while at MidState. Larkin said that he had been to many nationally recognized institutions across the country but MidState has always been one of his favorites because of the staff and care he receives.