USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

Doves are released during the annual Festival of Life. (Photo/Hinde Kast)

USC Norris Celebrates the Strength of Cancer Survivors at 32nd Annual Festival of Life

By Hinde Kast 

The spirited sounds of the USC Trojan Marching Band reverberating through Pappas Quad at the Health Sciences Campus kicked off the 32nd Festival of Life – the first one in-person since June 2019.

Hosted by USC Norris on June 4, this event celebrated the strength, resilience, and tenacity of cancer survivors. The morning was filled with uplifting words of survivorship, inspirational speeches from cancer survivors, and a breathtaking dove release.

The USC Trojan Marching Band performs to kick off the Festival of Life. (Photo/Lusine Davtyan)
Joi Torrence-Hill, Dr. Steven Grossman, Debbie Sierra Wilhelm, and Mars Robles at Festival of Life (Picture/Lusine Davtyan)

The event included opening remarks by Steven Grossman, MD, PhD, deputy director for Cancer Services at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Joi Torrence-Hill, MHA, chief of hospital operations for the USC Norris Cancer Hospital. Cancer survivors, including Mars Robles, a sarcoma cancer survivor, and Debbie Sierra Wilhelm, an acute myeloid leukemia cancer survivor, shared their experiences and talked about their hopes for the future. Moreover, Chaplain Symeon Yee led an invocation and blessing for the event.

“Never lose hope,” said Ms.Wilhelm. “Don’t let your thoughts consume you. Stay focused. There are people out there that genuinely want to help you. The doctors, nurses, and support staff at USC Norris are here for us. They are and will continue to be my guiding light. I can’t begin to thank everyone at USC Norris for being there during my darkest hours.”

Judy Stark, a 21-year cancer survivor and volunteer at USC Norris, led the tradition of inviting cancer survivors to stand amid applause during the Festival of Life in a show of celebration and support. Cancer survivors ranging from 20 years or more to those who are just beginning in their survivorship were honored and received a roaring round of applause by all in attendance.

The event concluded with the release of the doves, a tradition of this annual celebration. Doves are symbols of hope. In releasing the doves that day, we not only celebrated cancer survivors and patients who battle their cancer every day, but also remembered those we’ve lost along the way.

“Hope is not a cliché,” said Dr. Grossman. “Hope is possibly the most potent weapon we hold in our cancer treatment arsenal.”

At the event, a tree of life was available for individuals to honor loved ones that have survived, are currently battling, or have lost their lives to cancer. Additionally, a gratitude board was available for patients and caregivers to share notes of appreciation to those who have helped them or a loved one on their cancer journey. Both the tree of life and the gratitude board are currently on display in the lobby of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

The 33rd annual USC Norris Festival of Life will take place on Saturday, June 3, 2023.

Tree of Life and Gratitude Board displayed in USC Norris lobby (Photos/Hinde Kast)