When JoAnne Fletcher's husband was diagnosed with cancer 15 years ago, like many others, their world was turned upside down. After undergoing major surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, he recovered and, ever since, the couple has devoted their lives to educating, fundraising and volunteering in the fight against cancer.
"While my husband and I would never wish a cancer diagnosis on anyone, and we hope we never have to experience this again, more good has come out of our experience than not," she said.
Fletcher is one of about 20 volunteers behind the upcoming Pierce County Cancer Survivors Conference, taking place March 13 at University of Puget Sound, aimed at educating and inspiring anyone touched by cancer.
"This conference is all about survivors and their caregivers and families," Fletcher said, noting that a person becomes a survivor from the moment they receive a cancer diagnosis. "If they can get any helpful information, or even just have a nice day and meet others in a similar situation, then the conference has been a success."
Participants can take part in four, 45-minute breakout sessions focusing on a variety of topics ranging from women's health to pain/stress control and nutrition.
The conference also includes breakfast, lunch and a keynote address by singer/songwriter and cancer survivor Charlie Lustman, who survived a one in 400 million diagnosis of osteo sarcoma in his upper jaw. He now regularly appears at fundraising events and conferences.
During his treatment, Lustman wrote songs about his experience in chronological order, and takes his audiences on a very personal, memorable journey. He is currently completing a 28-city tour called The Musical HOPE Campaign. Lustman will also be performing in a free concert that night from 6-9 p.m. at Mason United Methodist Church.
The conference will also feature more than 40 tables with exhibitors offering free information and materials designed to help survivors and caregivers navigate the cancer experience. This year's mix of community organizations and cancer care advocates is better than ever, with major sponsors such as Franciscan Health System, MultiCare, The American Cancer Society and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
A committee comprised of representatives from these organizations, along with co-chairs Tricia Sinek and Jamie Dobosz, have been working for about nine months on the conference to ensure its success.
"The most exciting part of this conference is the fact that survivors are so happy to be there," Fletcher said. "They are so interested in meeting others and talking about their experiences. It's amazing how informed they want to be."
The conference takes place at University of Puget Sound from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., open to anyone touched by cancer, and is free to all. To register, visit pcccancersurvivorship.org, or call (253) 267-5814. Capacity is limited, so early registration is highly encouraged.