Surviving cancer is a lifelong journey of mental and emotional resilience. It is a process that requires constant effort from the individual every single day and an all-encompassing support system to aid them in their journey.
At the New York Proton Center, we celebrate every cancer survivor, and our team works to provide holistic, long-term support – physical, mental, and emotional – to our patients.
Our social workers, Chrissy Rubin, LCSW and Victor Ng, LMSW take a 360-degree approach to care that aims to remove as many of the stressors of receiving treatment as possible. They provide bio-psycho-spiritual care – body, mind, and spirit – working to manage stress, anxiety, depression, interpersonal relationships, existential crises and returning to work. Additionally, they support patients and their families with practical matters of managing their cancer, such as making sure they can get to and from treatment each day.
The past year has been among the most challenging on record for cancer survivors, who faced the unusual obstacles and restrictions brought on by COVID-19. In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, as the world slowly begins to return to normal, we give a special cheer to two survivors who have continued to persevere and bravely overcome the most unimaginable circumstances.
Tracy Hill-Ogletree is one of our patients who has survived anal cancer. After researching cancer centers, Tracy found NYPC and our innovative proton radiation therapy that targets the tumor itself and delivers much less radiation to nearby healthy organs and tissues. She read more about the benefits of proton therapy, and it gave her hope. Tracy met with Dr. Isabelle Choi, NYPC’s Clinical Director and Director of Research, who walked her through the process.
Although she was anxious and uncertain at first, Tracy found comfort in prayer and fate, which she believes led her to NYPC. She found community with a fellow survivor in the waiting room who encouraged her to “make friends” with the radiation machine, and that is exactly what she did. While Tracy recognizes the physical pain that sometimes comes with cancer treatment, her faith and the support from her family, friends and treatment team at NYPC are what have kept her hopeful and joyful during her cancer journey, affirming that life after cancer is possible.
In her own words, Tracy says, “The staff at the New York Proton Center is great. I feel supported – it’s like they wrap their arms around me to care for me.”
Allen Zimmerman has survived squamous cell carcinoma in his ear three times – in 1993, 2012 and now 2021. His first radiation lasted 14 weeks, for 52 total sessions, in a waiting room that he describes as crowded and decrepit with nearly no human contact. He feels that the treatment left scars that were more emotional than physical.
Allen says his experience at NYPC was the opposite – from security and reception to the nurses, doctors, radiation therapists, nutritionist, and social workers – he was provided with a daily foundation of care that he will never forget.
For Allen, survivorship is about opportunity, which also comes with responsibility. He acknowledges the physical and emotional toll that comes with survivorship, while also recognizing there is a great deal of positive that results from the experience.
He lives openly and honestly about his experience with cancer and has provided counsel and support to friends and colleagues who are going through their own cancer journeys. Allen says having cancer treatment saved his life. It helped him to kick unhealthy habits and inspired a new outlook.
He says, “It helped me strive for equanimity, to try to be a more balanced person. I learned to be more appreciative of life; not just making a living but actually living a life.”
Survivorship is an act of bravery. Tracy and Allen are living proof of everything that life can and should be after cancer. We thank every survivor’s courageous example to every patient who is newly diagnosed or unsure of what the future may hold. Their stories are what inspire hope and possibility.
National Cancer Survivors Day is about honoring survivors, recognizing the important role they play in uplifting and inspiring new survivors, and acknowledging the network of family, friends and healthcare providers who facilitate survivorship.
Congratulations to every survivor and thank you for everything you do to inspire hope, healing and a belief in life beyond cancer. We see you and appreciate you.