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National Cancer Survivors Day at Red Rocks Medical Center

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Top-notch cancer center in Golden

By Lynn Volkens

Sunday, June 1, 2013, was National Cancer Survivors Day, the 25th anniversary of the annual observance since it began in 1988. The event occurs each year on the first Sunday of June. Hospitals and medical care facilities throughout the state and nation set up tents in their parking lots. They lined them with booths of vendors offering products tailored to cancer’s victims, and treated all comers to free food, beverages and live music. Red Rocks Medical Center, the new (only three years old) physician-owned state-of-the-art facility in Golden, which includes a one-stop, full-service cancer treatment center, in Golden joined the fun.

A few Gilpinites were spotted in the crowd that sheltered in the shade of the white canopies, munching BBQ pork sliders, pasta salad, quiche, deli-meat and cheese wraps and sandwiches, spinach salad, cookies, brownies and chunks of fruit with a variety of dipping sauces. Water, iced tea and lemonade flowed from continuously replenished pitchers. Bags of swag dangled from nearly every arm. There were free chair massages, free Reiki sessions and drawings for all kinds of cancer support, traditional and alternative healthcare services. Local acupuncturist, Cindy Haxel, was one care provider on-hand from Gilpin County. She gave away three 90-minute acupuncture sessions. Tables of brochures, business cards, and refrigerator magnets provided take-home finger-tip contact information for general and specific cancers. Stupid Cancer 101 (www.stupidcancer.org) addressed cancer in young adults offering blogs and websites tailored in the language of youth, “Stupid Cancer, Survivors Rule.” On stage, the music of the P.J. Zahn Band played popular tunes from the later decades of the 20th century and many folks sang along to familiar favorites. In between sets, several of the Center’s doctors took the stage to entertain their patients, former patients, family members and friends.

“Are you coming to Survivors Day?” Dr. Kevin Schewe, radiation oncologist, was asking his patients last week. “I’m going to make a fool of myself,” he promised with a grin. Fooling around, was more like it. This year’s party theme was “Hollywood.” Appropriate  movie-theme music hinted at what was to come throughout a series of quick comical bits. Schewe had the crowd hooting with his vignette impressions of Ed Sullivan, Louis Armstrong, Forrest Gump, Clint Eastwood, Austin Powers, John Wayne (and several more). Dr. Rebecca Knight, a surgeon in real life, turned her skilled hand to putting the crowd in stitches of laughter rather than suture. As Schewe’s on-stage sidekick, Knight appeared as an iconic Marilyn Monroe, then took a turn as Mae West. Dr. Samir Witta, whose specialty is targeted, biologic, chemo and vaccine therapy, stepped his cowboy boots up to announce not the Academy Awards, but the Survivor Prize Awards: a weekend for two at the Broadmoor, Table Mountain Inn, and Denver Marriott West. Central City’s Century Casino gave away two weekend stays, including dinner for two with each stay. A couple dozen corporate and business sponsors ante’d up various gifts of products and services for lucky prize winners. Witta recalled the Hollywood theme, and reminded everyone of the purpose of the day, by proclaiming Charles Bronson as one of his favorite stars, “Because he survives in every movie. We’re working very hard to make every patient a Bronson – a survivor,” Witta said.

Funny people, survivors; literally, funny. In what is often a long, tough, expensive and definitely not a fun journey, the survivors found ways to laugh at themselves, at their cancers, at their doctors – and they shared those stories via an open mic. Some described types of cancers that are familiar – nearly everyone today has been touched by this disease in some form or another. Others rattled off convoluted carcinoma’s that only those who have that cancer, or are treating it, would recognize. Some expressed their cancer humor in corny jokes. Some sang. In any other setting cancer comedy would be oh so politically incorrect. But at National Cancer Survivors Day events, like this one at Red Rocks Medical Center, it was safe, healthy, even, to turn a not-to-be-laughed at disease into something that makes folks laugh.

Red Rocks Medical Center is located at 400 Indiana Street in Golden – just a couple blocks south of the intersection of Indiana and 6th Avenue. The facility includes numerous medical practices and everything a cancer patient needs from diagnosis, ex-ray, PET and CT scans, chemo, radiation and other specialized treatments, to final follow-up-all in a non-hospital setting. The building is beautiful with plenty of communal sitting areas in addition to the waiting areas of individual offices. A second floor garden offers a place for friends and family members to wait in fresh air and sunshine. Volunteers help coordinate services and a professional care “navigator” is there to guide patients beyond the shell-shock of first diagnosis through integrated care. Many patients at the National Cancer Survivors Day event had spent a lot of time in the building, starting with one doctor and moving through the team of doctors who work together to provide the personalized care the center is known for. “You take care of life. We’ll take care of you,” is their goal. Many of the patients had followed their doctors to their new Red Rocks Medical Center offices after being treated by them at previous facilities.

“How many of you are one-year survivors? Two-year? Five-year? More?” asked one survivor speaking during open mic time. By far, the most hands went up at the five-year mark. That’s encouraging to those who are just starting this journey or are in the middle of treatment, those who know remission isn’t a cure and recurrence is not uncommon. There were also several people who have survived cancer, sometimes numerous cancers, for two or more decades. They credited a variety of personal factors to their longevity: faith, humor, and attitude. They coupled that with the science of cancer and the technology of treatment, although they sometimes couched it in terms of “magic ray gun,” “cancer cell DNA dissolvers,” and “PAC-man cancer cell gobblers.” Above that, however, they credited their doctors, highly educated and experienced in their fields, and the “lift” the doctors, therapists and other care providers unfailingly deliver. “My doctor never had any doubt that I’d beat this,” said one survivor, “So neither did I.” She’d been attending the National Cancer Survivors Day events for more than ten years and summed up the day for everybody, “See you all next year!”


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