The Cancer Survivorship Conference: Why I Go, What I've Learned

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survivorship.jpgTwo women who've attended the Cancer Survivorship Conference -- Kathy Herron, a caregiver to her late husband Tim, and Sarah Oates, a breast cancer survivor -- weigh in on what the annual gathering means to them.

Kathy's story

My husband Tim was diagnosed with brain cancer in December 1988. The following year was a blur of surgeries, treatments, chemotherapy and radiation, all overseen by our wonderful team at MD Anderson.

Then we got an invitation to the September "patient-to-patient" conference.

Hungry for knowledge, we decided to go. We wanted to learn about the latest treatments, hear survival stories, get tips on coping with the effects of treatments and discover how to really live with cancer.

We drove from East Texas to the conference in Houston with wide eyes and eager hearts.

To our surprise and delight, we stepped into a party. It was clear in the decorations, the food, the greeters and the exhibitors. We absorbed it all like sponges.

Our fellow attendees were just like us. Some with slick bald heads, some with obvious evidence of radical surgeries, some pulling IV trees suspended with their bags of chemo.

We went to every session, picked up lots of literature and pamphlets at the exhibitor tables and found some helpful books in the bookstore.

Highlights included hearing of the latest advances in cancer treatments from top researchers, meeting others with the same type of cancer through the support groups and, best of all, the Friday night banquet with a comedian who made us laugh until our sides hurt.

We returned every year, renewing friendships, getting caught up on the latest research and enjoying the celebratory atmosphere that is the Cancer Survivorship Conference.

We were encouraged on our cancer journey and we tried to give encouragement to others.

This year, I'll be at the conference without Tim, who passed away last September.

I still consider it a joyous occasion, and urge all cancer patients, survivors or caregivers who are interested to take a chance and come.

You'll be welcomed with open arms, as Tim and I were.

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