Dr. Robert O. Dillman had welcome words Saturday for the estimated 10,285 people in Orange County whose cancer will be diagnosed this year.
New advances in the treatment of the disease make the chances for survival substantially better than ever, said Dillman, an oncologist and the medical director of the Patty & George Hoag Cancer Center, where more than 500 doctors, cancer survivors and friends attended Saturday's sixth annual "Celebration of Life" festival.
"Don't panic and give up hope," Dillman said. "It's not likely there will ever be a single cure for cancer. But . . . the variety of treatments now available are leading to major gains in terms of survival. Cancer patients overall now have a 50-50 chance of living five more years, where 30 years ago it was only one in four."
The cancer center, next to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, was one of many institutions nationwide to celebrate National Cancer Survivors' Day, which recognizes the country's 8 million cancer survivors.
Wearing yellow "I'm a Cancer Survivor" badges, the former patients mingled with friends and family, were entertained by music and dancers and dined on barbecued chicken and corn-on-the-cob.
Sally Dunne, her close-cropped hair a badge of her recent chemotherapy treatments, offered her own words of advice for future cancer patients: Prepare to do battle.
"I think you have to right away make up your mind you're going to fight like hell and you're going to make it," said Dunne, 31, a Laguna Beach resident. "You have to have a strong will to live--and fight."
Her breast cancer was diagnosed in August, 1993, and she has since undergone surgery and an aggressive, high-dosage chemotherapy treatment. She is now considered cancer-free and is back at work as a landscape architect.
"I'm kind of glad I was 30 when I went through this," Dunne said. "I faced death--it was right there, smack in front of me. Because of that, now little stuff doesn't bug me. My work is more intense and my play is more intense."
Cancer survivor Chuck Kalberg made his way around the crowd in shorts and a sport shirt, his healthy tan belying the fact he too had recently faced death. Five years ago this spring, Kalberg, a resident of Laguna Hills, discovered a lump in his groin that was diagnosed as testicular cancer.
"I was ready to pack it in," Kalberg, 47, said. "I had seen all the television shows and heard the horror stories, where cancer is a big drain on the family and you wind up dying poor and penniless. I told the doctor I'm willing to take a calculated risk, but, if it's only a 10% chance, I'm not going to put my family through it."
But like Dunne, Kalberg wound up surviving a series of high-dosage chemotherapy treatments that can be nearly fatal themselves.
"I think attitude is a big part of it," Kalberg said. "You can't spend a lot of time wondering 'Why me?' My doctor said it was probably a cell from birth that had been dormant all those years.
"You have to spend whatever strength you have in fighting it and beating it."
Several of the women in the crowd who had lost their hair from chemotherapy wore hats and bandannas to protect themselves from the midday sun.
With a disease like cancer, each of the stories is unique, Dillman said. One of the most difficult things about treating cancer is that it is a different disease in every patient, he said.
"Each of us is the product of our parents," Dillman said. "Just as we look different, our cancers are different."