The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 21, 2012

Celebrating life: Event pays tribute to breast-cancer survivors

David Hurst

WINDBER — When Roxane Hogue learned she had breast cancer in November, she kept the news a secret.

Fearing talk would put undue stress on her four children, Hogue decided she’d rather fight it silently.

“I saw it as my battle,” the Loretto woman said.

“I wanted to be strong for them.”

But mingling among 50 fellow breast-cancer survivors at the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center on Sunday, Hogue now realizes she didn’t have to face the disease alone.

“It’s so much different being around all of these people. Just opening up and talking about it has been so beneficial for me,” Hogue said. “The women I’ve met here – there’s just a connection.”

That’s a reason the center’s annual Tribute to Survivors event was first held five years ago, care center Director Patty Felton said.

What started as a formal program with a guest speaker has since evolved into a casual event, giving cancer survivors a chance to share stories, compare notes and offer support, Felton said.

“We do this every year to celebrate their milestones,” she said, noting some, like Hogue, are still being treated, while many others have been cancer-free for years or decades.

“It gives them a chance to see they aren’t alone.”

Dozens of breast-cancer survivors gathered in the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center’s lobby for the event. Many of them showed up dressed in pink. Murtha met with many of them, autographing Congressional Club Cookbooks, which were filled with recipes from Capitol Hill’s elected leaders and their families.

Irene Shrift, 83, of Summerhill, has been cancer-free for nearly 15 years. But she keeps returning to the event.

She vividly recalls the day she learned she had cancer.

“My husband and I cried together,” she said. “I was so scared.”

But while undergoing radiation, cards and phone calls started coming in from folks Shrift didn’t even know.

“That meant so much to me. It really kept my spirit up,” Shrift said, adding she hopes she can do the same for others.

“Having people around you who went through the same thing – it helps,” she said. “That’s why we’re all here.”

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