Amid the music and their memories, more than 2,000 cancer survivors and their loved ones gathered to celebrate the 14th annual Don Monti Cancer Survivors’ Day, held outside the headquarters in Lake Success, NY.
The day of celebration, made possible through the generosity of the featured keynote speaker Nancy Borowick, an award-winning photojournalist. Ms. Borowick, of New York, spent much of her life dealing with cancer. Three of her grandparents died of the disease. Both her mother, Laurel, and her father, Howie, lived with it at the same time before eventually succumbing to the disease. In 2012, when her father received a terminal diagnosis, he asked his daughter to photograph his experience. This marked the beginning of Ms. Borowick’s chronicle of her family’s shared journey---weddings, chemotherapy, romances, and final moments---which came together in her book, “The Family Imprint---A Daughter’s Portrait of Love and Loss.”
Speaking passionately about her role as caregiver to the parents she adored, Ms. Borowick told her audience, “To be here today to honor my parents’ legacy and the lessons they shared at the end of their lives, and to remind everyone that we are in this together, is a true blessing. It was a great privilege to be a caregiver for my parents, to support them during this difficult time and to advocate for them. It was through these difficult moments that we bonded in a way that made the experience ever more meaningful and powerful."
Another featured speaker, Frank Danza, a finance executive at Northwell Health, was diagnosed with kidney cancer several years ago and is now living with brain cancer. In his book, Now I Know I Am Not Alone, he describes the spiritual and personal journey after his initial diagnosis and surgery that allowed him to live through another frightening encounter with the secondary diagnosis. A deeply religious yet initially skeptical man, he spoke of his chance encounter with healer John Carroll, who helped strengthen Mr. Danza’s belief that everyday miracles led him through a life path that would ultimately save his life.
“During the seven years since my diagnosis, I have learned that survival is a daily process where my event may never be in my past; it is battling every minute of every day to keep the metastasis that have settled into my lungs and in my brain from growing or spreading,” said Mr. Danza. “It may seem strange for me to say it, but I have been blessed. I have lived seven fulfilled years since my diagnosis -- and this September I will walk my first daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. We are all blessed here today.”
Richard Barakat MD, physician-in-chief and director of the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, which treats approximately 16,000 new patients every year, noted recent studies showing that the death rate for cancer in the US has fallen 27 percent over the past 25 years. “There are currently 17 million cancer survivors in the United States,” he said. “You are a very special group. The fact that there are so many survivors today means that we continue to move in the right direction.”
In another highlight of the celebration, Caroline Monti Saladino, president of the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation, presented the Tita & Joseph Monti -- Vincent Vinciguerra Award for Excellence in Patient Care to Dr. Vinciguerra, in whose honor the award is named. “When I think of what a caregiver means, it is a person with compassion, empathy and great warmth. And that person is Dr. Vinciguerra,” said Ms. Monti-Saladino.
Dr. Vinciguerra, a long-time medical oncologist/hematologist at North Shore University Hospital and later the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, has known the Montis for nearly 50 years, dating back to the early 1970s, when Ms. Monti-Saladino’s 16-year-old brother Don passed away from acute myeloid leukemia. “Our family knows first-hand how caring and wonderful Dr. Vinciguerra is,” she said. “He made an incredible impression on our entire family. From that time on, my gratitude and respect for Dr. V has deepened into a truly special friendship.”
Summing up the spirit of the day, Ms. Monti-Saladino said, “As I do every year, I wish that all your days be filled with health, happiness, and most important….life. It is my belief that a person whose will is stronger than their circumstances -- that is a survivor.”