They called one another sister, even though some of them had never met. They unwrapped gifts and ate cupcakes, even though it wasn’t their birthdays. They laughed, they cried. They all had breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer - Oakland County hosted a survivor celebration Tuesday evening at the West Bloomfield Library. A handful of women and their caregivers shared their stories of survival and learned more about the American Cancer Society.
Clarkston resident Cameo Odett sang “Happy Birthday” in front of the small crowd of about 19 people before she spoke candidly about her struggles with breast cancer. She was diagnosed at 30 and then again, 10 years later.
“I looked up the word survivor... and this was hard for me because a survivor is a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition or setbacks,” she said while holding back tears. “Now, each of us everyday have a setback, but we don’t consider ourselves a survivor. But, when you think of a life-threatening disease and a minute can change your life, you might just want to call yourself a survivor.”
Joyce Torby passed out a newsletter article that she published about her story of survival, called “Fight Cancer With Humor.” In the article, she joked about bringing a tip jar to a radiation therapy session. “I figured that since the technicians get a free topless floor show, the least they could do is help me defray my medical expenses!” she wrote.
Torby, of Farmington Hills, said a positive attitude has helped her cope with her diagnosis. She’s four months out of radiation treatment and feeling better than she did before she had breast cancer, she said. “A friend with lymphoma said to me, you have no idea the gifts cancer will give you. It’s true, I met phenomenal people. My life is actually better now, it’s more fulfilling and I’m just happy,” she said.
Besides sharing survival stories, the ladies - and a couple of men - celebrated with raffle prizes, and each survivor was invited to write their name on a felt candle, which was then placed on a large birthday cake. Along with their names, some wrote how many months or years they have been cancer-free.
The ladies were also reminded that because of their diagnosis, they are now the person their family and friends will turn to first if they get cancer. “All survivors recognized they are the first line, that they will be receiving, sadly, a call from a friend that says now I’m a member of the club,” said Royal Oak resident Jeanne Williams, who works for the American Cancer Society. Williams added that the first place to turn is the American Cancer Society’s 24-hour toll free line at 1-800-227-2354.
The American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk is Oct. 13 at Oakland University. For information, call 248-663-3401 or visit www.makingstrideswalk.org/oaklandcountymi.