By Gioya Mcrae
As seen in: Montclair Local
The narratives covered broken relationships and supportive spouses, lingering fears and sprinkles of humor, humbling experiences and strengths gained.
Thirteen cancer survivors told their personal struggles and triumphs on June 9 at Montclair Film’s Cinema 505.
“Don’t Fight Fair: An Evening of Storytelling” was presented in support of National Cancer Survivors Day, which is observed each year on the first Sunday in June.
“Last year was our inaugural event for Cancer Survivors’ Day. This year we wanted to put a fresh spin on it and decided to partner with Montclair Film to carry on this theme of storytelling and being a platform of survivors telling their personal tales,” said Joy Lee-Calio, Director of PR and Content Strategy for Summit Medical Group.
Montclair Film and Summit Medical Group put out the call for stories of which 13 were selected to be read at the event.
Emceed by Risa Barash, the storytellers were Helene Unger, Elizabeth Nikol, Laurie Liming, Saul Moroz, Racquel Foster, Linda Suissa, Debbie Galant and her son Noah Levinson, Floss O’Sullivan, Maureen Glennon, Pat O’Hanlon, Rhonda Silver, Bill Cambras, and Adee Shepen.
“Tonight’s event is filled with stories of hope, humanity and healing. As we acknowledge our community’s cancer survivors, we will also recognize contributions of their families, friends and caregivers, and raise awareness for the ongoing challenges faced by many affected by cancer,” said Director of Development for Montclair Film Aran Roche.
Montclair resident, writer and painter Debbie Galant and her son Noah Levinson shared how they created a podcast called “The Chemo Files” which helped them get through her breast cancer chemo treatments. The podcast won the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism. The program raised awareness of the critical role that the media play in educating the public about cancer and cancer research.
“People realize that they construct their own narrative. Everybody’s life is a story and when cancer’s thrown in, that is a chapter you don’t really want to go into, but you don’t get a choice. Then you have to follow the doctor’s instructions, but you have control over how you meet this challenge,” said Galant.
Adee Shepen’s story “Social Butterfly” speaks of the loss of her wife due to ovarian cancer and her fear of being left alone. “When I was a kid, my nickname was chatterbox. I was a social butterfly. I never wanted to be alone. Eventually I met my wife and we had 15 wonderful years together and she died of ovarian cancer. I thought I was going to be alone. Then, I was surrounded by friends and family and the kids. And I knew I wasn’t going to be alone.
Shepen shared her story because she wanted people to hear the side of the spouse, the caretaker and to know that as hard as it is to see a loved one go through cancer, there’s life after it.
“The person left behind, while forever changed, will be ok,” Shepen said.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor Bill Cambras said he learned what it means to really take one day a time. “As cliché as that sounds. It was the most important thing that I learned through the experience because it’s so overwhelming,” Cambras said.
Most said they didn’t want their illness to define them. Elizabeth Nikol, behavioral therapist for Summit Medical Group, shared a story of how her cancer contributed to the dissolution of her marriage after surviving Stage 2A breast cancer.
“You don’t let it define you. I think we can say that about any kind of trauma, not just cancer, not just a serious health diagnosis but any big event in your life that completely throws you for a week, a month, and years in some cases. You can always turn it around. Every day is an opportunity to start over. That’s what this is all about,” said Nikol, who now counsels cancer patients and patients with other traumas.
A podcast of the stories will be made available by Montclair Film and the Summit Medical Group MD Anderson Cancer Center in the coming weeks.