Celebrating her fifth year of cancer survivorship, Edith Williams was delighted to take part in Cancer Treatment Centers of America's Celebrate Life.
"[This is an] annual event that brings cancer survivors and caregivers for a day of empowerment and celebration," said the 59-year-old Cartersville resident. "Survivors stand united to support one another, [and] celebrate and encourage others in their own journey.
"… I was chosen as one of the survivors to be interviewed and filmed about my journey. It was a great honor to be asked. The video was shown at the celebration. CTCA has five centers, and I was chosen as the [Philadelphia] CTCA representative. The realization of surviving five years after being diagnosed was the greatest feeling of accomplishment to me. God has been in control of my life through it all."
Presented at CTCA's hospital in Philadelphia May 18, Celebrate Life featured various components, such as a tree planting service and offering encouragement to present-day cancer patients.
According to a news release, Celebrate Life is "dedicated to commemorating five-year cancer survivors for their courage and ability to serve as beacons of hope to others who are battling the disease. During this year’s meaningful celebration, [Edith Williams] joined more than 65 other five-year survivors, as well as current patients and their loved ones, to partake in emblematic events, including:
• A tree planting ceremony, whereby one tree will be planted for each five-year survivor;
• HOPE rounds, in which celebrants hand symbolic 'HOPE' pins to patients currently undergoing treatment at CTCA, reminding them to remain optimistic throughout their journey;
• Joyous gathering of all five-year survivors sharing a special 'family moment' during the taking of a commemorative group photo."
Williams — who received care at CTCA's Philadelphia hospital — received her cancer diagnosis Jan. 30, 2013.
"I was diagnosed with Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of [the] left tonsil with 52 positive lymph nodes removed, radiation five days a week and chemo [once] weekly," she said. "[I] stayed in [the CTCA Pennsylvania] hospital three months during this treatment.
"After surgery, I had [a] feeding tube, had to learn how to speak, swallow and eat. Due to the chemo/radiation, [I was] unable to do these things. I … [received] speech therapy and [a] TPN [total parenteral nutrition] IV to give me nutrition. After having problems with [my] feeding tube, I went for [a] PET scan. This is when it discovered I had Stage I clear cell renal cancer — half of a kidney was removed in September 2013."
Calling herself a "stronger person" due to her health experience, Williams now is helping others with their cancer journeys. She currently is a member of Cancer Fighters Care Net program, where she provides insight into CTCA's care for new cancer patients and caregivers.
"In the beginning, I was devastated, angry, asking God, 'Why me?' And thank God for an understanding that my survivorship helped me to encourage others worse with cancer than I," Williams said. "And I have made peace within my heart with God, praying to him that I [will] be able to help at least one person to encourage and give them hope as someone did for me. I am at peace. I know the cancer can return, and I am all right with that. I am not going to like it, but it won't feel the same as it did when I first found out.
"I'm living my life like it's golden. I travel, shop and experience more things now with a greater appreciation for life. … My cancer journey has made me [a] stronger person."