Phelps County Regional Medical Center (PCRMC) honored cancer survivors during their own celebration for National Cancer Survivors Day on Saturday morning at Greentree Christian Church. Upon entering the coffee line in the main community hall, tables were festooned with what looked like the contents of a treasure chest—gold pieces and nuggets. That’s because the theme this year was “Treasure Survivorship.”

Phelps County Regional Medical Center (PCRMC) honored cancer survivors during their own celebration for National Cancer Survivors Day on Saturday morning at Greentree Christian Church. Upon entering the coffee line in the main community hall, tables were festooned with what looked like the contents of a treasure chest—gold pieces and nuggets. That’s because the theme this year was “Treasure Survivorship.”

“We’re here on Survivor Day, celebrating survivor life, said Samra Norris, the patient service representative at the Delbert Day Cancer Institute. As a cancer survivor going on ten years after that first horrible diagnosis, she knows what she’s talking about.

“It’s kind of an emotional day for all of the survivors,” she said. “When you go back to that first scary day when someone tells you, ‘you have cancer’—it’s something none of us are prepared for. But with lots of support from your family and your co-workers, you get through it.”

Samra says life is changed when you’re diagnosed with cancer because you never know what it’s like until you go through it. But “going through it” can still stretch into decades afterwards psychologically. She says that’s what makes the Cancer Survivor Day so special—it’s the camaraderie of difficult shared experience; and everyone at the breakfast came out the other side, a survivor to continue life, a life that will never again be viewed in the same light. But there is always the specter, the weight of never really knowing if the cancer is truly gone or if it will raise it’s ugly head again.

“It’s kind of neat, because you see patients you were under treatment with. If you were in chemo radiation, you see a familiar face and it helps you recover, because you’ve made it another year,” said Samra.

For the rest of us who haven’t had a run-in with the disease, it’s hard not to feel a strong empathy for these survivors. Everyone knows their journey fighting a biological mutation with an uncertain outcome is courageous.

The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a cancer survivor as anyone living with a history of cancer—from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life. With more than 15.5 million people living with cancer in the U.S. today, everyone knows somebody whose life has been touched by cancer.

“Cancer is now considered a chronic disease,” says Carol Walter, the nurse navigator at PCRMC’s Delbert Day Cancer Institute. “Unlike in the past, so many are still living and surviving.”
She says we often talk about “curing cancer,” as though it is one particular disease, but a mutating organism isn’t a one-trick pony. She says it’s this disease’s complex ability to change that puts it in the chronic category and instills the fear entering unknown territory. That’s why a job like hers is so important for someone just diagnosed with the disease. Many of the survivors at the breakfast know Carol because she is the front line to help them battle all of the messy details that need to be taken care of when patients are sick.
“I help people navigate through the health care system—getting them the resources they need, so nothing falls through the cracks,” she says. “I make sure they see the social worker or the dietician, or help answer the questions they have. Life after cancer is about more than just surviving. It’s about living well.”

After breakfast, raffled gift baskets and door prizes were handed out and PCRMC internist Eric Aubuchon, DO, spoke about the importance of patients having a primary care provider. He said primary care providers help offer preventive care, such as screenings and assessments at the right age and can make referrals to medical specialists when needed.
“Having a primary care provider can give you a trusted, ongoing relationship with one medical professional over time to make sure you get all the care you need to remain healthy,” said Dr. AuBuchon.
He was followed by Daryl Reeves and Jennifer Bragg, two cancer survivors who shared their stories.

This National Cancer Survivor’s Day breakfast was sponsored by PCRMC, Colton’s Steak House and Grill, Key Sport Shop and many volunteers. Jack Maher is one of the owners of Colton’s Steakhouse and Grill, here in Rolla and a volunteer who oversees the kitchen on this special day. He changes up the menu every year. Last year he was flipping pancakes and this year he was warming ham steaks and a cheese and egg casserole. There is always fresh fruit, juice, coffee and lots of conversation.
“It’s an opportunity to show our appreciation and to give our thanks to the people in the community for people who have gone through this—I’ve had several people in my family—and it’s definitely something we feel strongly about,” said Jack.
His daughter and other volunteers were helping out in the kitchen and they made serving hundreds of people look easy. It was probably all that restaurant experience in action, but also something a little more, according to Jack.

“There’s always a smile on your face when you can come in and do something for somebody.”