On the Town: Cancer survivors celebrate transformation

TV host Mayte Prida, a Miami transplant from Mexico City, survived four bouts of cancer. For her first cancer diagnosis, third-stage breast cancer, she had no medical insurance. Her father gave her the money to get a second opinion, during which a malignant tumor was discovered growing on one of her kidneys. Her third bout — lung cancer. Her fourth bout — uterine cancer.

In 2010, her 15-year-old daughter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “Latinos are diagnosed with breast cancer less but die the most,” Prida said. She explained that many Latino men abandon their wives when they are “mutilated by cancer.” For this reason, Prida continued, “Many Latino women would rather die than have a breast removed.” Prida realized that education was necessary and formed a foundation to spread the word that cancer is not an automatic death sentence, and that free medicine is available. She uses Latin celebrities in TV public service announcements to make her message heard. It's working. In the U.S., 6 million cancer patients receive their medications for free.

Having been through the throes of cancer over and over, Prida was the first choice of speakers by Glendale Adventist Medical Center staffers for their annual Cancer Survivor Day luncheon. On Friday, some 200 cancer survivors and their families gathered at the hospital to celebrate their transformations by cancer.

The luncheon had a fiesta theme, including entertainment by the six-member Mariachi Los Angeles and the always popular canDancers, made up of cancer survivors. Lunch was served buffet-style with the finest of Mexican cuisine.

Once the program started there was no stopping it, and the audience still wanted more. A welcome was given by the hospital's new Chief Executive/President Kevin A. Roberts. He introduced the VIPs present including Glendale Councilwoman Laura Friedman, herself a cancer survivor, and City Councilman Ara Najarian. In brief remarks, Najarian listed his connections to the hospital. His father was a staff orthopedic surgeon at the hospital for 20 years, and his oldest son was born at the hospital. Najarian was also a member of the hospital's “Army of Pink Soldiers” contest in support of breast cancer awareness. The winner by a long shot was Dr. Boris Bagdasarian, the hospital's cancer committee chairman. He was present and spoke of the hospital's just-received Quality Award as the best comprehensive cancer center in Los Angeles.

Dr. Sara Kim, radiation oncologist medical director, was at the podium with Bagdasarian. She announced to the enthusiastic agreement of audience members, “Everyone has been affected by cancer in this room.” She also described the hospital's practice of “treating body and mind.”

After keynote speaker Prida's presentation, the canDancers were on. Under the direction of fitness program dance instructor Arlene Vidor, 10 cancer patients and survivors in full Mexican regalia danced and pranced through three numbers. Standouts were Cecilia Reyes, Mary Wang and Guadalupe Mendoza.

Wang was also one of four recipients of the hospital's Flame of Hope Award presented by Roberts and Director of Cancer Services Melina Thorpe. Wang had been diagnosed with colon cancer. She has been a survivor for 15 years. Wang was honored for establishing the hospital's Cancer Survivor Group. Wang makes a point of speaking to all newly diagnosed cancer patients at the hospital.

The three other Flame of Hope awardees were Kerry Nelson, Teryl MacDougall and Tom Shannon.

Mention must also be made of Liz Mirzaian. This one-woman dynamo is the hospital's director of volunteer resources and president-elect of the hospital Guild. In her spare time, Mirzaian is also president of Soroptimist International of Glendale. Mirzaian spent her time at the luncheon selling pins of colorful, paper flower blossoms for $10 each to support the hospital's cancer programs.

The program ended with the recognition of cancer survivors in the room. They stood to much applause. Prida had the last word, however. After surviving cancer, she said, “you are stronger, better and more caring.”

RUTH SOWBY may be reached at ruthasowby@gmail.com.

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