Celebrating survival safely
Most attendees were there to celebrate their reclaimed lives, which they did at festive outdoor tables replete with food, drink, family, friends and memories. Beaming patients hugged doctors and nurses not seen in years amid tears and laughter, while grandchildren some assumed they’d never meet munched on corn dog bites and chased after balloons.
Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Thomas J. Lynch Jr. , observing the nearly 250 patients and family members gathered in the Hutch’s Mundie Courtyard, called the in-person reunion, postponed by the pandemic for two years, a “celebration of survival” and an “absolutely spectacular event that I could totally get used to.”
Lynch went on to outline recent events at the Hutch — from the opening of the Steam Plant, “a terrific facility for innovation;” to a soon-to-be-released book on the history of bone marrow transplantation by Appelbaum; to the Hutch’s recent merger with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to provide a more seamless translational research and clinical care experience for patients.
Physician-scientist Dr. Stephanie Lee, holder of the David and Patricia Giuliani/Oliver Press Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, took the stage to honor the longtime medical director of the Long-Term Follow-Up Program, Dr. Mary Flowers, sharing news of Flowers’ impending retirement later this year. This prompted an appreciative standing ovation from the crowd.
The diminutive Flowers, whom Lee referred to as “small but mighty,” spoke of the giants of the transplant program with whom she worked, Thomas and Dr. John Hansen, as well as the many others who’ve helped patients over the years.
“Fred Hutch started with the idea that you could cure cancer with a bone marrow transplant,” she said. “And I have been blessed to have known the founder of this idea — Dr. Thomas, my first attending physician when I started. His legacy continues not only here in this country but all over the world.”
“It truly takes a village,” she said. “And this is a celebration of our village.”
From pediatric patient to doctor
Flowers also took a moment to introduce pediatric transplant survivor Dr. Juliana Lanza Neves, whom she treated 30 years ago. A native of Brazil, as is Flowers, Neves now works as a pediatric oncologist at a cancer center in her home country. She attended the reunion with her father, who was her bone marrow donor, and with her husband.
“In Brazil, I am a doctor,” she said in an interview before the event. “But in Seattle, I am a survivor. This moment is very important to me.”
Keynote speaker Smith, who attended with his wife, their three sons and several grandchildren, also talked of how important the moment was for him and the rest of the survivors in attendance.