One speaker called it “a strange predicament.” A series of “electric shocks” through his elbow began a journey that revealed lung tumors and a cancer diagnosis. After five rounds of chemotherapy and several platelet and blood transfusions, the man became a survivor and not just a victim. “I was surprised,” he said, “as I hadn’t smoked in fifteen years. My quitting, of course, came after having spent thirty years smoking.” But the story seems the same for many: they’re mostly asymptomatic or symptomatic with what seem like health nuisances than the prospect of something serious like cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, there were about 236,740 new cases of lung cancer, split almost evenly between men and women. Of those cases, nearly 130,000 people lost their lives.
In the UMC Cancer Center, staff hosted the first annual Shine the Light event, a combination memorial and awareness event meant to honor those who have lost or are fighting cancer. The event also provided life-saving education. Dr. Shabnam Rehman, a hematology oncologist, meticulously taught those in attendance about preventative measures and types of treatment. She said lightheartedly, “If we have a mass (tumor), we have weapons of mass destruction,” which garnered laughs from an otherwise solemn crowd. Upon arrival, each attendee was given a small flashlight for the event’s defining moment. Between short testimonials, like the one shared above, Cancer Center staff emceed and offered thoughtful reflections on the importance of recognizing cancer early and the vital importance of screenings.
A musician played soft, live acoustic music. Among the songs was Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line,” a song that seemed salient to the event’s theme. Children and their parents wore custom-printed t-shirts bearing the faces of those they honored—those lost to cancer. Though there were several rows of chairs in the center of the room facing the front podium, people gravitated to the room’s edges, sitting in a way that they could all face each other and see the faces of those that have shared their struggles. I’m uncertain if they realized the sweetness of that instinct. However, in the end, these strangers seemed like a large family, and perhaps that’s what they were.
When the survivors finished their stories, the attendees were asked to join others in a moment of silence. During that moment of silence, everyone would turn their lights on and shine them toward the ceiling, and when the time came, that’s what they did. Everywhere, at once, soft blue orbs flooded the ceiling, dancing like bubbles atop water. Some lights waved frantically, and others hovered solemnly; one light would cross into another, doubling its brilliance. Behind the act’s subtlety were quiet, thoughtful people smiling at the lights, remembering those they love. When it ended, and the lights went out, the event had accomplished what it hoped to do: Shine a Light on cancer, reveal it for what it is—something we can overcome and face together.