Amid the music and their memories, more than 1,400 cancer survivors, their families and other loved ones gathered on June 9 to celebrate the Northwell Health Cancer Institute’s 12th annual Don Monti Cancer Survivors’ Day, held outside the Monter Cancer Center in Lake Success, NY.
The day of celebration, made possible through the generosity of the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation, included patients from 12 Northwell hospitals that collectively treat more than 16,000 new cancer patients every year – North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center in New Hyde Park, Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, LIJ Forest Hills, LIJ Valley Stream, and Huntington, Plainview, Glen Cove and Staten Island University hospitals.
The keynote speaker was Carmen Marc Valvo, an internationally known fashion designer and a colon cancer survivor. It was in 2003 that Mr. Valvo realized that something was wrong. In his late forties at the time, he was just shy of the recommended age of 50 to begin colorectal cancer screening. However, Mr. Valvo said he listened to his body and insisted on having a colonoscopy, a decision that may have saved his life. His doctors found a large tumor inside his colon, and Mr. Valvo underwent surgery.
Now a well-known advocate for colon cancer awareness and funding for research, Mr. Valvo credits journalist Katie Couric, former co-host of NBC-TV’s Today Show, for “pulling me out of my cancer closet” and giving him the courage to speak openly about his diagnosis. He continues to promote awareness through his work as a board member of the Colon Cancer Alliance and has given generously of his time to raise money for colorectal research.
Clearly emotional, Mr. Valvo looked out at the hundreds of cheering people in his audience and told them, “The one thing that cancer taught me to do is to celebrate every day. Life is joyous…we all need to remember this.”
Another cancer survivor, pediatrician Anila Thomas, MD, was in her last year of medical school at age 25, when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2011. Following a two-year treatment regimen of spinal taps, infusions and bone marrow biopsies recommended by Northwell Cancer Institute oncologist Jonathan Kolitz, MD. Dr. Thomas was declared cancer-free in 2014. In what she describes “as nothing short of a miracle,” she finished medical school in 2013, and completed her pediatric residency at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in 2017.
“And, to top it off, “said Dr. Thomas, “and probably best of all — my daughter, Abigail Sarah Thomas, was born on October 25, 2017. So, take ownership of your survivorship,” she said. “We need to bring hope and encouragement to everyone who has shared this experience.”
Richard Barakat, MD, physician-in-chief and director of the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, who joined the health system in April after many years at Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan, said he was struck by the energy and the passion of survivors, loved ones and staff. “Our overarching goal is to standardize cancer care across Northwell Health — from Westchester, Manhattan, Staten Island and Long Island — so no matter where you get treatment, you’ll receive the same level of high-quality care,” he said, noting that a major priority will be on expanding cutting-edge clinical trials for our patients, including the launch of Phase 1 clinical trials through Northwell’s Center for Cancer Therapeutics at Monter. “We are also working closely with our colleagues at the world-renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Through this unique collaboration created three years ago, we’re bringing innovative research from the lab and giving our patients access to novel, early-stage clinical trials.”
Summing up the spirit of the day was Caroline Monti Saladino, who continues the legacy of her late parents, Tita and Joe Monti, as president of the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation. Looking out at the audience, she asked simply, “Are you all happy to be here today?” Responding to enthusiastic applause, she added, “Well, so am I. This is my family’s reward, and what makes our work at the Foundation so joyful. As I do every year, I wish that all your days be filled with health, happiness and most important — life.”
About Northwell Health
Northwell Health is New York State’s largest health care provider and private employer, with 23 hospitals, 665 outpatient facilities and nearly 15,000 affiliated physicians. We care for over two million people annually in the New York metro area and beyond, thanks to philanthropic support from our communities. Our 66,000 employees – 15,000-plus nurses and 4,000 employed doctors, including members of Northwell Health Physician Partners – are working to change health care for the better. We’re making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and the Hofstra Northwell School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. For information on our more than 100 medical specialties, visit Northwell.edu.