The thundering sound of the USC Fight Song, piercing through the brass and percussion instruments of the USC Trojan Marching Band, signaled the beginning of the 33rd Festival of Life. The sound echoed throughout all of Pappas Quad at the Health Sciences Campus.
The event, held on the beautiful morning of Saturday, June 3, celebrated the strength, resilience, and tenacity of cancer survivors and their families. USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital hosts this annual event, which included moving speeches from cancer survivors and an awe-inspiring dove release.
In keeping with tradition, the Tree of Life was installed near the check-in area, enabling attendees to honor loved ones who have survived, are currently battling, or have lost their lives to cancer by leaving uplifting words of survivorship. Additionally, patients and caregivers shared notes of appreciation with members of their support system from their cancer journey on the Festival of Life scroll.
W. Martin Kast, PhD, leader of the USC Norris Tumor Microenvironment Program and a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, obstetrics and gynecology, and urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, served as master of ceremonies.The event included opening remarks by Steven Grossman, MD, PhD, the deputy director for Cancer Services at the USC Norris Cancer Center, and Joi Torrence-Hill, MHA, FACHE, the chief of hospital operations for the USC Norris Cancer Hospital.
“Surviving cancer is an extraordinary feat, one that demonstrates your unwavering strength, courage, and determination,” said Torrence-Hill. “Your journey has inspired countless others and serves as a beacon of hope for those who continue to fight. We are celebrating YOU, your triumphs, and the immense significance of this milestone in your lives.”
Huyen Q. Pham, MD, a gynecologic oncologist and director of the Gynecology/Oncology Clinic at Keck Medicine of USC, and an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics & gynecology at the Keck School, also spoke about updated information on treatment advances and new cancer research. In addition, Dr. Pham shared his experiences as a physician.
Cancer survivors, including Jared Lipscomb, a leukemia cancer survivor, and Julie Clauer, a colorectal cancer survivor, shared their cancer journeys, inspiring all those in attendance with their bravery, resilience, and strength.
“I know survivorship looks different for everyone, and I know survivorship is a gift not everyone receives, but I do believe that the moment we get that diagnosis, we become survivors,” said Jared. “Getting through a single round of chemo or radiation makes us survivors. Being able to hold on one more day makes us survivors. If this community has taught me anything, it is that strength can be found when you least expect it. Today’s celebration of survivorship is a reminder that each day is a gift, and I am so lucky and grateful to be here, alive and able to celebrate with all of you.”
Led by Judy Stark, a 22-year cancer survivor and volunteer at the cancer center and cancer hospital, and Awa Jones, chief nursing officer at the USC Norris Cancer Hospital, cancer survivors were invited to stand amid applause during the Festival of Life as a show of celebration and support. This tradition takes place every year at this event. Cancer survivors ranging from 20 years or more to those who are just beginning their survivorship were honored and received a roaring round of applause from all in attendance. Additionally, everyone in attendance at the Festival of Life applauded the patients currently undergoing treatment at USC Norris Cancer Hospital in a heartwarming, inspiring display of community and support.
The conclusion of the event was signaled by the annual tradition of the release of the doves. During this moment, the Bayou Brass Band played “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” by Diana Ross. Doves are a symbol of hope, and by releasing the doves that day, attendees not only celebrated the cancer survivors and patients who battle their cancer every day, but also remembered those lost along the way.
“At USC we ‘Fight On.’ To all the cancer survivors out there, keep fighting on,” said Dr. Kast in his closing remarks.