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Cook County Cancer Survivors Day: Strength. Support. Inspiration.

Cancer patients get star-like treatment at annual event.

By Alexandra Normington

More than 200 cancer survivors and their family members came together to celebrate their victory against cancer at the Cook County Health & Hospitals System's (CCHHS) Cancer Survivors Day event on June 7 at John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital.

During the celebration, survivors had an opportunity to share the story of their fight against cancer and the care they received at CCHHS.

"I love Cook County, it means a lot. It's my place. I was born here in '53 and this is where I'm going to stay," said Deron Howard, a CCHHS patient who went through 44 radiation treatments after being diagnosed with prostate cancer nearly a year and a half ago. Today, Mr. Howard's PSA levels (the markers that can signal prostate cancer) are well within the normal range.

Deron Howard, Basia Lukaszczyk, and Alisha Jackson at the CCHHS Cancer Survivors Day celebration
Deron Howard, Basia Lukaszczyk, and Alisha Jackson at the CCHHS Cancer Survivors Day celebration. Photo: Alexandra Normington.

Mr. Howard and his girlfriend, Alisha Jackson, recognized Basia Lukaszczyk, a certified clinical research professional with Stroger's oncology team.

"Basia is the best. When we met with her, she stuck with us. She calls and sends us letters," said Ms. Jackson. "They have an excellent team…They made everything comfortable for him and made it easy for him to make it to his appointments."

Goce Vasev vividly remembers when he was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia just a few years ago at age 27.

"My first question was what do we do next?" Mr. Vasev recalls. "The doctor was surprised by my reaction and said that we are going to go through chemotherapy and that I had to stay in the hospital for a month. That's how it starts."

He went on to have four cycles of chemo, the last one in August 2014. Now in remission, Mr. Vasev continues to see his providers at Stroger Hospital, "I didn't want to meet them under these circumstances, but I am happy to have met the team that treated me. They are great."

Many attendees spoke about the close partnership patients have with their care providers during and even after cancer treatment.

"The themes we are hearing and seeing today are so emblematic of what it takes to survive and thrive after a cancer diagnosis- teamwork and support," said Dr. Jay Shannon, CEO of CCHHS

Cancer survivors and their families ate lunch while enjoying performances by Mariachi Nuevo Mexicanisimo, the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, the University of Illinois at Chicago's bhangra dance team and Katharine Ruestow. Survivors were invited to walk in a red carpet parade where they were individually recognized.

CCHHS treats more than 1,700 people annually with newly-diagnosed cancer, the most common being breast, lung, colorectal and prostate cancers. For the last 15 years, CCHHS has received accreditation by the American College of Surgeons for its Academic Comprehensive Cancer Care Program. Stage for stage, people who are treated for cancer at CCHHS do as well those who are treated at some of the best cancer programs in the country.