Fighting as Friends

Written by  Katie Carpenter
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It’s easy for someone to feel alone after a cancer diagnosis when there are more than 900 different types of cancer, various stages of recovery, countless treatment options and multiple emotional struggles that one might endure.

To gain perspective on the many aspects of cancer survivorship, Facing Cancer Together hosted a community forum on witf TV’s “Smart Talk” on this topic. A group of cancer survivors, who are in different stages of recovery, were invited to witf’s Greenwald Studio to tape a segment for the program, and engage in an open dialog about their medical and emotional struggles while facing the disease.


The group encompassed survivors of brain, breast, endocrine, kidney, ovarian and prostate cancer. Each of these survivors had heard the words, “You have cancer.” And each brought with them a unique insight on how those words change a life in an instant.

After greeting each other for the first time, they took their seats and began to talk.

One of the guests, Garnet Stevens, was diagnosed with brain cancer last winter. On his personal blog, Thinking Clearly, he recalls being on set at the studio, “sitting in very comfortable chairs, talking about a very uncomfortable subject.” But, as uncomfortable as cancer can be to discuss, especially within a group of strangers, opening up about their lives seemed to have an almost therapeutic quality for the guests. Stevens revealed some of the emotional struggles that occurred after his diagnosis, including how some friends stepped up to the plate while others completely turned their backs on him.

(Pictured above: Garnet Stevens, enjoying time with his wife, Tricia, and son Will while in the Outer Banks.)


“I hate cancer but what came out of it was good,” said Joanne Cassaro, a graphic designer at witf as well as another guest on the show. “It’s the silver linings that cancer brings to those who are diagnosed that can change a person for the better. That’s what happened to me over the past 11 years. Ovarian cancer changed my life, leaving me unable to have children of my own. So given that card — I made the choice to live life the way I always dreamed of. Create — the best therapy in the world for recovery and the depression that followed.”

Unlike Cassaro, guest Dr. Lewis Shaw has never been near remission. Shaw (Pictured right) is undergoing treatment for a rare neuroendocrine cancer, the same type of cancer that Steve Jobs had. “There’s a big difference in being afraid and living in fear. You can’t live in fear and let it consume you,” he remarked. Shaw has found nothing good in having cancer, but believes that a sense of humor can go a long way in dealing with the daily struggles of cancer.

sandblades-cancer-survivorsHusband and wife Eric and Jackie Sandblade (Pictured left) also added their unique perspectives on survivorship to the conversation. Jackie cherishes her newfound appreciation for life after surviving breast cancer and is “enjoying the moment.” And Eric, who overcame both kidney and prostate cancer, shared this advice for cancer patients: “Don’t shoulda’ on yourself, because there’s no need to dwell on anything that is impossible to change.”

witf-survivors-talkAfter the cameras and lights were turned off, the program went on to be edited, and the guests went home. But, the survivors continued their dialog via email, finding that what had taken place between them was something special.

Stevens shared on his blog after the taping, “I will be interested to see if the camaraderie that we felt that night will translate to television. I am also interested to see how they will cut down more than an hour of chatting into an eight-minute segment."  Scroll down to watch a video of their conversation.

Although they each have very different paths and perspectives, they were still able to connect within the similarities in each others’ stories. Perhaps there was some validation in knowing they weren’t alone in their feelings. Or, perhaps it was friendship that the group of survivors found in each other.

As C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: What? You, too? I thought I was the only one.”

dr-shaw-and-joanne“Sitting down and talking to the other survivors about their cancers was truly the therapy that I so needed over the years. Long time coming for sure,” Cassaro remarked after the taping. “They are some remarkable people who started the show as strangers and have now become friends. Different cancers but similar stories of hope, lessons learned and love for life.”


Connecting the stories and lives of this group of survivors illustrates what witf, Lancaster General Health, PinnacleHealth, WellSpan Health and Facing Cancer Together are striving to do in the community. Programs such as this one, community events, and interactive experiences like the Digital Quilt of cancer stories are all helping to tell the larger narrative about how cancer impacts lives in our community.

(Pictured right: Joanne Cassaro poses with Gilda the Mootivational Cow. She created Gilda in 2004 for CowParade Harrisburg.)

Stevens wrote on his blog: “Thanks to PBS for giving the opportunity to share a bit of my story and thanks to my fellow survivors for energizing me and reminding me that there is always room for hope — and maybe a little faith, too.”

witf-studio-tapingOne of the mottos of Facing Cancer Together is “We’re in this together.” This group of remarkable survivors reminds us of that. If we are willing to share our experiences, offer wisdom to others, share a word of encouragement, or just listen, we all have the capacity to make a lasting impact and send out a ripple effect of hope.

You can share your own cancer story at the Facing Cancer Together website.

Written by
Katie Carpenter

Published in Central PA Magazine, 2012 May-June Issue  

Click here to watch entire survivorship forum, including their advice at the end of the program.

Web Resources:

Related Video

Watch Surviving Cancer on PBS. See more from Smart Talk.

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