Hundreds of pediatric cancer survivors and their family members joined for a day of fun, food, music and inspiration at the fifth annual Les Nelkin Pediatric Cancer Survivors’ Day event hosted by Cohen Children’s Medical Center at Eisenhower Park.
A highlight of the program included brief remarks made by young adult ambassadors of the hospital’s “Survivors Facing Forward” program.
Spencer Ford, 16, of Queens, was only 2-and-a-half months old when he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that forms in the adrenal glands. He was declared cancer-free in 2004 and is now a thriving high school junior. In an emotional speech, Spencer told the cheering crowd, “Seeing all my fellow survivors here reminds me of how far we’ve come. I want to say thank you to everyone who helped get me to my 16th birthday. Thanks to the staff at Cohen, I not only survived, I thrived.”
Danielle Cassar, 21, of Levittown, was just 8-years-old when she was diagnosed with stage 4 Wilms tumor kidney cancer. She was officially declared cancer-free at age 12 and is now an accomplished student. Because of what she’s gone through, Danielle is considering a career as a pediatric oncology nurse.
“Cancer created the foundation of my life,” she said. “I’m grateful to be alive, breathing and on this Earth. I am not the same person I was before cancer. I am a stronger, braver person now. Cancer proves miracles happen every day.”
Joining in the applause for Spencer and Danielle was Charles Schleien, MD, chair of pediatrics at Northwell Health and executive director of Cohen Children’s Medical Center. When asked about the importance of the day, Dr. Schleien said simply, “Today is the reason why all of us who work in healthcare come to work each and every single day.”
As a leading center of pediatric oncology, Cohen sees over 200 new cases of childhood cancer every year. This results in hundreds of childhood cancer survivors requiring ongoing care. The hundreds of people who attended the day’s program are members of Survivors Facing Forward, a program designed to meet the complex needs of survivors.
The day’s event was made possible through the generous sponsorship of Ruth and Harold Nelkin, who lost their son Les to a form of pediatric cancer in 2001.