Giving hope: Day of Hope raises spirits for cancer survivors

HOUGHTON — Whether you’re a survivor, family member, caregiver or neighbor, events like the Day of Hope are important, said cancer survivor Mary Zanoni.

“Cancer is hard, and we need hope,” she said.

The American Cancer Society event was held Aug. 18 at the Rozsa Center. This was the second year at the Rozsa, following a dinner program last year.

“We’re really hoping this event will help build some momentum so that we can get enough people to help plan a Relay (for Life) for next year,” said Ann Collins, community development manager for the ACS.

The event honors cancer survivors. The survivors received a T-shirt, pin and flower “to really celebrate their overcoming cancer,” she said.

They also told survivors about services offering rides to treatment, or wigs available for people undergoing chemotherapy. The ACS also has Hope lodges, where people traveling for treatment in Minnesota or Wisconsin can stay free of charge.

Speaker Mary Zanoni, a survivor of acute myeloid leukemia, spoke about her story. She was diagnosed in 2011, when her doctor noticed something in her blood work after her annual checkup. About 20,000 people a year get it; only 20 percent live for one year.

After shrugging it off, she eventually came down with a severe flu. At the emergency room, the staffer’s eyes went “like that,” Zanoni said, holding her hands out to indicate eyes bulging in disbelief. On that ambulance ride to Marquette, she finally admitted to herself she had cancer.

“You know what I thought to myself?” she said. “I said, ‘That’s OK, I’ve done everything I wanted to do.”

The chemotherpay weakened her immune system. That caused a fungal infection, which doctors quickly caught. She still got fevers, going through a 24-hour cycle of freezing and sweating for two months.

Family and friends buoyed her spirits with love, prayers and healing thoughts. She received hundreds of cards and more than 2,000 emails.

“The messages were filled with hope, and i can truly say that hope saves lives,” she said. “Families give each other hope, too, and we as a community give each other hope. When friends, family and neighbors get together with cancer survivors, we all see a very tangible way that we are cared about.”

She received a bone marrow stem cell transplant from two brothers. The brother she didn’t choose came to the hospital in case the other brother didn’t make it.

Zanoni has now been cancer-free for seven years. About a year ago, her doctor told her she was cured.

Angie Van Tassel, part of the “Women Living With Cancer” support group, was also on hand to give people information about cancer support groups. The group meets from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. the last Wednesday of the month, alternating between UP Health System — Portage and Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital.

Sometimes, there will be speakers, such as doctors or dietitians.

“A lot of the meetings lately, we just go to lunch, and they usually go around the room and have an update and let people talk if they want to share,” she said.

The group’s other recent groups include putting together “cancer kits” for patients, and a bake sale at Michigan Tech Federal Credit Union.

Van Tassel is also part of the Reach for Recovery program, in which she talks with people who have been newly diagnosed with cancer.

Donna Des-Jardin of Dollar Bay found out about the event on Facebook from Zisone. She would’ve liked to have seen a bigger crowd. Still, it was a good time, she said.

Events like the Day of Hope are important ways of giving hope to short-time survivors. Des-Jardin was diagnosed 32 years ago with uterine cancer.

“I know the value of that support,” she said. “You can’t really understand what that is. A person can be in the same room with you, and just smile, and that makes all the difference.”

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