Eisenhower Park was filled with the laughter of more than 700 pediatric cancer survivors and family members who gathered for the inaugural Les Nelkin Pediatric Cancer Survivors’ Day hosted by Cohen Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) of New York. They cheered as the event’s keynote speaker, New York Giants’ linebacker Mark Herzlich talked about his own successful battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
When he was diagnosed at age 21 before starting his senior year at Boston College, Mr. Herzlich was told that he would not be able to play football again -- and may never run again. “I decided that I wasn’t going to let cancer beat me,” Mr. Herzlich told fellow survivors. His dream of playing football pushed him to not just be a survivor, but to “be a thriver.” A three-year cancer survivor who won a Super Bowl ring with the Giants in February during his rookie season, he encouraged attendees to “fulfill your dreams.”
The event, made possible by the support of Ruth and Harold Nelkin as a way to honor the memory of their son, Les, attracted former child cancer patients of all ages. They included Tracy Vicere, who is celebrating 22 years of survivorship after being diagnosed at age 16 with two different types of cancer, Hodgkin’s Disease and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. CCMC was her home away from home for months. Despite the difficulties of treatment, she had the support of her family and made many great friends with the hospital staff and her team of doctors. “I felt I was saved for a reason and am thankful to give back to Cohen through my foundation, Friends and Angels: The Tracy Vicere Foundation,” she said. The foundation hosts fundraisers to benefit the Division of Hematology/Oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation at CCMC.
As a leading center of pediatric oncology, CCMC sees approximately 200 new cases of childhood cancer every year. Thanks to improvements in chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, there are more than 300,000 children, teens and young adults in the United States who are survivors of childhood cancer and require ongoing care. To help meet the complex needs of survivors, CCMC pediatric oncologist/hematologist Jonathan Fish, MD, created the Survivors Facing Forward Program (SURFF). “Though we cannot choose our challenges,” Dr. Fish said, “Survivors Facing Forward will help survivors face the unique concerns ahead, and will advocate for your well-being and serve as a resource.” Survivors also know the importance of a positive attitude, a fact evident in the smiles of the hundreds present.
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