Say it in the Smokies

I have cancer, and I’m alive

Many years ago, the word “cancer” was a socially inappropriate topic and rarely was discussed beyond a physician's door. The thought was that if we didn't discuss it, miraculously, it -- the cancer -- would go away. As progress has been made though, even today, friends and family shy away from the subject because they don't know what to say, they are sad or it's difficult for them to talk about.

One reason for that is that people who don't have cancer cannot truly understand what a person with cancer is feeling. A diagnosis of cancer can bring fear, uncertainty, stress, sadness and an abundance of emotions. Statistics from the Blount Memorial cancer care program show that in 2007, 572 new patients had a primary cancer site, 60 percent of those being in the bladder, breast, colon, lung or prostate. Of the 572 patients, 274 - or 48 percent, which is nearly half - were female.

Each woman who has been diagnosed with any type of cancer has a different story and different way of handling her cancer. Some have cried. Some have tried to be strong for their husbands, children or extended families. But, most women who've been diagnosed will tell you they found their strength by continuing through life and work responsibilities and by continuing to set goals for the future. Women often tell us, “Cancer has made me stronger and more determined to be who I am and to do what I want to do.” It's because of attitudes like this, and early detection, that our survival rates continue to increase.

To help women find the support they need, whether they've just been diagnosed, are in treatment or are a survivor of any type of cancer, the Blount Memorial Cancer Center organizes a weekend retreat to the mountains for women to find support from other women who truly understand a cancer diagnosis. The retreat's environment offers a time for camaraderie, validation and an opportunity for personal growth. The spirit among women at the retreat is one that's genuine and encouraging - there's no dwelling on the bad things.

In its fourth year, the retreat - Celebrate Spring -- is a time to celebrate life. Women leave with a positive attitude, and they no longer feel the need to whisper the word cancer. They're given the support they need to stand up and say, “I have cancer. I am alive.” Retreat attendees also participate in educational programming and group activities.

If you’ve recently been diagnosed, are in treatment or are a survivor, grab your female support person who’s helped you through your experience with cancer, and join us for the retreat. It happens Friday through Sunday, March 27-29 at the Edgewater Hotel and Conference Center at the Aquarium in Gatlinburg. All rooms are double occupancy, and a $60 registration fee (scholarships are available to survivors) covers the whole weekend - dinner and lodging on Friday; three meals, snacks and lodging on Saturday; breakfast Sunday morning; entertainment; door prizes; and more. For more information or to register, call me at 865-980-4922.

Carmen McCloud is the director of the Blount Memorial Cancer Center.

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