Charisse Jones looks forward to the smiling faces every year.
There isn’t always reason for optimism at the Cancer Center at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. But normally around April, cancer survivors start to call Jones, asking when the facility will host its annual Iris Lee Schwartz Survivor’s Day Celebration.
This year’s event will be held June 8. Jones, an oncology social worker at the hospital, will be there, manning the registration desk as survivors flow in through the doors, flanked by family members and sporting grateful grins.
“It brings me a lot of joy,” Jones said. “A lot of times when patients are diagnosed with cancer, there’s a perception it’s a death sentence, and it’s really not. Not for all people.
“To be able to come on that day and push forward makes them a survivor.”
The Einstein Healthcare Network, which includes the Philadelphia location, was launched in 1866 as the Jewish Hospital. After merging with Mount Sinai and Northern Liberties hospitals, the facility changed its name to honor Albert Einstein but hung on to its roots — the on-site Henry S. Frank Memorial Synagogue is a staple of the hospital’s culture.
So is the survivor’s day celebration. The event is normally built around entertainment, with comedians and jazz bands headlining past festivities. This year, though, the survivors themselves are the featured entertainment.
Typically, two or three survivors — or physicians — stand up and share their stories before the crowd. But this year the event will be open to all who want to share, some shedding light on their battle with cancer and some about other aspects of their lives.
“It’s always the patient testimonies that really touch a chord within me,” said Tracy Kane, a cancer center patient navigator who serves as the event’s emcee. “All of the attendees like to share what they’ve been able to do since that diagnosis … and the grandchildren they’ve gotten to see born or the weddings they were able to attend.”
Kane said she’s often moved by what doctors have shared at the event, which is funded by Schwartz’s widower, Harry.
“One year, one of our physicians who did the closing remarks shared some words. I don’t remember the exact thing he talked about, but he had the whole room in tears,” Kane said. “Physicians are affected by [cancer]. Sometimes we think they’re not, but they are.”
Survivors have been known to take breaks from dinner to bust out a few dance moves, and this year the music will be provided by the Eye Tunes, a band comprised of Einstein physicians. Dancers or not, all survivors are likely to leave the celebration with memories.
“They clear their calendar for the day,” Jones said. “They enjoy being around individuals who have gone through the same thing they have, and to celebrate their life and their journey.”