More than 1,200 cancer survivors and their families gathered Saturday afternoon under a giant white circus-type tent outside a New Hyde Park medical building where some had first been told they had cancer.
But now, months or years later, they celebrated being alive.
“Look at you,” said Carol Silva, the former News 12 Long Island anchor who in 2019 had received her stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis in that building, Northwell Health’s Monter Cancer Center. “You kicked cancer’s butt. You look amazing.”
The crowd burst into applause. Silva has been cancer-free since September 2020.
The gathering is one of hundreds expected this weekend that are tied to the 35th annual National Cancer Survivors Day, which is Sunday. It is Northwell’s first in-person cancer survivors’ event during the COVID-19 era.
Dr. Richard Barakat, physician in chief for the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, said in an interview that the gathering is “really to inspire other cancer patients that there is hope that you can survive cancer.”
Research and new treatments mean the chances of survival are rising, and will continue to increase, Barakat said.
“Even patients with advanced disease can do extremely well,” he said. “Cancer patients are living longer, and we expect many more cancer patients to survive.”
Silva said in an interview that she's convinced that her positive attitude from the beginning, including the moment she was told she had cancer, and her Catholic faith, helped her survive.
“I was never afraid,” she said.
Robert Jordan, 53, a retired NYPD detective from Seaford, is one of more than 100,000 people enrolled in a federal program for people with physical and mental health effects of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For many, cancer diagnoses did not come until years later.
Jordan told the crowd of how he found out he had stage 4 throat cancer in 2017. He worried about leaving his wife and two children without a husband and father.
Jordan still endures other 9/11-related health problems, but the cancer is gone.
As Jordan spoke, his wife, Suzanne Jordan, 53, and two children, Nicholas, 23, and Danielle, 18, listened at a table nearby.
Like Silva, Suzanne Jordan believes that a positive attitude is key to survival. She focused on encouraging her husband rather than despairing.
“It was a lot of ups and downs,” she said. “We didn’t know what to expect. I just made sure he kept up his strength and told him, if he was strong, he could beat it.”
One reason for the gathering, Barakat said, is to remind people with cancer, and those in remission, that “it’s not just about the treatment of cancer and the side effects and the journey they have to go through, but that there’s life after cancer, because we want our cancer patients not only surviving, but thriving — enjoying life, spending time with their families, engaging in activities they enjoy.”
Donald Deonarine, 79, of Hollis, Queens, was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer last year. After surgery and chemotherapy, he is now cancer-free.
He said sitting at a table and sharing stories with others who survived cancer was inspiring.
“They’re survivors just like me,” he said. “I’m very happy to see there are a bunch of people who are surviving their sickness like me.”
Behind Deonarine, people were placing colorful paper leaves on a giant “celebration of life tree." On the leaves were names of survivors and cancer doctors. And there were messages of hope and gratitude: “One day at a time. Life is good.” “2-year survivor!” and “Luckiest man ever.”