TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – Rye resident Kate Conn said being diagnosed with stage 3-A breast cancer was absolutely terrifying because she had two boys aged 4 and 8.
“I had to keep going because of the boys,” she said. “I think because of them I survived — and I was lucky enough to come to Sloan-Kettering.”
Conn was one of approximately 200 cancer survivors, family members and medical staff gathered at the DoubleTree Hotel on Thursday to celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Memorial Sloan-Kettering treats patients at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow, offering chemotherapy, radiation therapy and support services.
“This is a celebration for all of them,” Jean LePere, manager of Network Community Programs at Sloan-Kettering, said Thursday night.
The event included a performance by the barbershop group Talk 4 and a talk from Conn. Conn helped found The Wig Exchange, a network that provides well-cared-for wigs to Westchester women who have cancer.
Conn co-founded the program with her husband, Paul, and Sandy Samberg after trying to figure out what she would do with her wig after she finished her treatment.
“I had bought a wig for chemo, and when I was done with it, I thought I was going to keep it forever,” Conn said. “When I was done with it, I couldn't stand to look at it. I couldn't figure out what to do with it.”
Samberg was very involved in raising money for breast cancer research and noted she had been getting requests for wigs. Together they decided to take in previously used wigs, refurbish them and loan them to other women with cancer. The program has already given out 15 wigs.
"At the end of the day, it's nice not to give cancer too much energy,” Conn said. “Don't get upset about buying a wig; just take one from us.”
Tarrytown resident Sharai Platt was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in December 2010. She said it was a little shocking at first, but she never let it get her down and decided to put her trust in Sloan-Kettering.
“The only option was to get better,” she said.
Platt worked throughout her treatment. She also illustrated a children's book, which she said was very therapeutic. “Wallaby the Wannabe” was a two-year effort, but Platt said author Bonnie Feuer never hurried her along.
Feuer “asked me to do this and she said, 'I don't care how long it takes you,' ” Platt said. “She would email me daily and found out how I was doing.”
Platt said she enjoys reading the book to children and enjoys her post-cancer life.
“I always just looked towards the future,” she said. “I never let it stop me from what I wanted to do.”
Conn said sometimes she can't believe she had cancer and other times she thinks about it a lot. She describes it as her “new normal.”
“I think the first thing I did right was come here,” she said, referring to Sloan-Kettering. “I think it's without a doubt the best place to come for cancer treatment.”