The annual Celebration of Hope for breast cancer survivors, usually held on the first Monday after the Kentucky Derby, is fast becoming a Kentucky tradition.
Dona Crowe of Louisville is a breast cancer survivor. It’s been seven years since she was first diagnosed.
“When the diagnosis came, I thought there isn’t anything I can do about it, except leave it in the Lord’s hands and whatever comes, comes, and that’s been my attitude all along,” said Crowe.
“And what would be your advice to others out there who may just now be encountering it?” asked McVeigh.
“I would say to stay positive, and it’s important that you have the support of your family and friends. They mean a whole lot to get your through the ordeal that it can be,” replied Crowe.
Crowe was among cancer survivors from across the state attending this year’s Celebration of Hope. Most were women, but not all. Donald Walker of Lexington was there. He’s a survivor of prostate cancer.
“You got to realize that, just because you have cancer, that’s not a death sentence. It really isn’t. You just keep praying and keep hoping that they’ll find a cure. You just lean and depend on the Lord and that’s it,” said Walker.
The celebration, started 12 years ago by former first lady Judi Patton, has grown from a quiet tea in the governor’s mansion for a few survivors, to this year’s event, a boisterous and festive affair for nearly one thousand survivors at the Frankfort Civic Center. Also in the crowd, Rep. Addia Wuchner of Burlington, who attended her first celebration two years ago.
“It was three weeks after I had a double mastectomy and a woman said, ‘I don’t know, there’s so many survivors here but I’m really new at this. I just had my mastectomy three weeks ago.’ And I said, ‘Well, so did I.’ So you find a sister that’s part of the journey, no matter where you are, and it’s very encouraging,” said Wuchner.
Wuchner is part of the commonwealth’s first cancer-survivors Dragon Boat team. Dragon Boats are slender, canoe-like boats, about 40-feet long. It takes 18 to 22 people to paddle them. Every member of the Kentucky team is a cancer survivor.
“Dragon Boat racing came when a doctor named Dr. McKenzie was actually studying women after breast cancer. He had them practicing paddling and using oars. And after the study, he said, ‘OK, thank you ladies, you’re done.’ And they said, ‘Wait and minute, we want to keep this up!’ That doctor now has six boats and we’re now the 51st team in the United States,” continued Wuchner.
After christening the team’s boat, first lady Jane Beshear was presented with an honorary pink paddle, holding true to the “pink” theme of breast cancer awareness. As she worked the crowd, Mrs. Beshear said she was thrilled with the turnout. The event is usually held in the huge Derby Breakfast tent on the Capitol grounds, but because of budget cuts there was no tent this year.
“Actually, we probably would have outgrown the tent. We were kind of bursting at the seams last year and this provides us a bigger space. We’ve also provided the opportunity for some fun activities on the outside that we didn’t have room for last time,” said Beshear.
The Celebration of Hope is rapidly becoming a Kentucky tradition. Every first lady since Judi Patton has embraced it and its positive effect is annually reaffirmed in the glowing testimonials of those who attend. Former Governor Martha Layne Collins hopes it becomes a permanent thread in the fabric of the commonwealth.
“I think it’s something special for Kentucky and of course we always do special things in Kentucky. So, I certainly hope it does continue,” said Collins.
It certainly will, says Mrs. Beshear – at least while her husband is governor!