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Patients, Survivors Celebrate Life & Liberty With Hope and Perseverance

More than 4,000 patients, survivors, loved ones, nurses and doctors gathered at Liberty State Park on September 12.
BY Kelly Johnson
PUBLISHED September 15, 2015
[Photo by Kelly Johnson]

More than 4,000 patients, survivors, loved ones, nurses and doctors gathered at Liberty State Park on September 12. [Photo by Kelly Johnson]

The day after the 14th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Richard Funcheon gazed at One World Trade Center along New York City’s skyline as he stood in line at Liberty State Park waiting to get his caricature drawn.

“I was there on September 11 when the buildings were on the ground,” Funcheon says. “I worked for EMS. I had just retired, but I called them and told them that I would come in. There was nothing there. There was nobody alive. Other than support, there was nothing for the EMS to do.”

Fourteen years later, proudly wearing a T-shirt that read “Cancer Sucks,” Funcheon was at Liberty State Park for a different kind of support.

More than 4,000 patients, survivors, loved ones, nurses and doctors gathered at the park on Saturday, September 12, for the 7th Annual Celebrating Life & Liberty event, sponsored by the John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC) at Hackensack University Medical Center. The event has steadily grown each year, with approximately 700 people in attendance at its inaugural gathering in 2009.

This year’s event spotlighted “pursuits of happiness,” including lunch, live bands, caricaturists, magicians, temporary tattoo artists, lawn games, a giant inflatable colon, raffle prizes, and even a helicopter landing by Hackensack University Medical Center’s chopper.

Photo by Kelly Johnson

Kate Buttner, RN, nurse manager of the bone marrow transplant program at Hackensack University Medical Center, with her husband at Celebrating Life & Liberty 2015 [Photo by Kelly Johnson]

“I think this is just a great celebration of life and it really shows that cancer is not a death sentence all of the time,” says Kate Buttner, nurse manager of the bone marrow transplant program at Hackensack University Medical Center. “It’s a chronic disease that you live with, but today is a celebration that you’ve gotten this far.”

And despite so many people gathered who have been touched by cancer, it was hard not to find a smiling face at Liberty State Park.

Funcheon, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2001, admitted that he was feeling lousy, but managed to crack a smile when his grandchildren came running up with their new balloon animals.

“I never feel good,” he says, “but events like this are nice, and I’m here for support.”

This year was the second year that Patricia McCauley of Toms River attended the event. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma 20 years ago, and while in remission remains under maintenance care by Andre Goy, MD, MS, chairman, director, and chief of the lymphoma division at JTCC.

“We couldn’t believe that they did this much for everybody. Between the live band, the prizes, the food, the nice gift bags — everybody’s just in a great mood,” McCauley says. “It’s a relaxing day, and to get to see the Statue of Liberty is just amazing.”

Goy was inspired to start the event by a patient several years ago who was a curator at the Statue of Liberty. It sparked the notion that having all patients together under the shadow of Lady Liberty would represent hope and perseverance.

“Look at the view — the amazing view — the beautiful comradery that exists here,” Robert Garrett, president and CEO of Hackensack University Medical Center, said in a broadcast to the crowd. “Please enjoy all of that, but most of all enjoy each other because what you represent is the best of humanity—courage, spirit, perseverance.”

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