Cancer Survivors Gather to Share Powerful Stories at Scripps

A group of cancer survivors gather at Scripps to share their powerful stories and celebrate how hard they fought the disease.

The word “celebrate” is rarely associated with cancer. But in June, celebrate is exactly what cancer survivors and their health care providers at Scripps did. National Cancer Survivors Day events were held throughout San Diego County to provide inspirational stories and opportunities to connect with caregivers, friends, family and fellow survivors.

Each of Scripps’ five hospital campuses hosted celebrations in observance. Here are the highlights: 

Dancer leads his doctor in a special performance

Oncologist Dr. Irene Hutchins dances with cancer patient Steve Valentine after his recovery.

Dancer leads his doctor in a special performance

A bedside promise was fulfilled with a ballroom dance at Scripps Green Hospital. When oncologist Dr. Irene Hutchins treated cancer patient Steve Valentine, who had an aggressive form of Burkitt’s lymphoma, they discovered they shared a passion as former national champion ballroom dancers. Now cancer-free, Steve led Dr. Hutchins onto the dance floor at Green - in an emotional dance appropriately set to “I Will Survive.” 

“When Dr. Hutchins made a promise to dance with me once I was well, it became my goal to get out of bed and dance out of this hospital,” Steve explained. “It was a dream come true to express myself with someone who saved my life and to show other people that you can bounce back.” 

For her part, Dr. Hutchins considered the dance a tribute to the care team who “make miracles like this possible.”

“Although my proposition was 100 percent sincere, I felt worried and sad as I walked away from his room,” Hutchins recalled. “He was so ill, I wasn’t sure if he’d ever make it out of the hospital, let alone gain the strength to dance again. Many months later, when I finally saw him on the dance floor, he was full of energy and life. We were both brought to tears because it was a dream come true.” 

View the video of Dr. Irene Hutchins and cancer survivor Steve Valentine's ballroom dance..

Scripps psychologist turns challenges into advantages

Breast cancer survivor Tarane Sondoozi talks with KPBS TV crew on a Scripps campus.

Scripps psychologist turns challenges into advantages

Breast cancer survivor Tarane Sondoozi, an Employee Assistance Program psychologist at Scripps, shared insights at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla about how she turned the challenges of her own cancer experience to her advantage – and how others can too. Sondoozi underwent surgery and radiation last year and is currently receiving chemotherapy, which will continue for the next five to 10 years. Despite this, Sondoozi attributes a new perspective and appreciation to having cancer and says, “cancer has actually healed my life.” 

Nurse hikes her way to recovery

Patti McCarthy uses hiking poles to climb a mountain after her yearlong breast cancer treatments.

Nurse hikes her way to recovery

Patti McCarthy, a home health nurse at Scripps, thought cancer treatments would end her ability to hike, and even kneeled down to kiss the trail goodbye. When she was able to get back on the trail, she cried tears of joy, overcome by the healing effect hiking had on her. During her yearlong breast cancer treatments, McCarthy and her husband began a mission to hike the entire 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, spanning from Mexico to the Canadian border.

“Hiking became my sanity, my saving grace. We did 262 miles during my cancer treatments,” McCarthy reflects. 

McCarthy said hiking played a key role in her successful recovery and return to nursing. Noting it was an experience that helped her become a better listener and a more empathetic caregiver. Read the story in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Truck driver says cancer diagnosis was his best day

Dennis Baca, a colorectal cancer survivor, stands with his eyes closed beneath a tree.

Truck driver says cancer diagnosis was his best day

“Some people may view the day they got their cancer diagnosis as the worst day of their life, but we need to change that viewpoint into one of positivity,” said Dennis Baca, a colorectal cancer survivor who spoke at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas. When Dennis began experiencing severe exhaustion he attributed it to a persistant cough. When he decided to visit a doctor he was informed he had colon cancer, and had probably had it for about two years. “For me, it was one of the better days of my life, because that’s the day someone said they were going to help me. Cancer can be deadly, but it’s treatable and it’s important to go on and live your life.” The hardest thing for Baca, he said, was following instructions to take six months off work. He hopes to return sometime this year. Read the story in the Encinitas Advocate.

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