WARREN - Wearing pins proudly boasting their years of being cancer-free, cancer survivors gathered in celebration of their victories at Lincoln School Sunday afternoon.
"God just saved your life. What do you have to fear? And I don't. I don't have fear. I am moving on with my life," said Jodi Lehmann to the room of about 80 survivors and family members.
The 24th annual Cancer Survivorship Day was held by the American Cancer Society, the Trumbull Memorial Health Foundation and Trumbull Memorial Hospital. It included a presentation by Dr. Gary Koski, who spoke about new research using the immune system to fight cancer, and the survivor story of Lehmann.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Margaret Thompson
Zoa Lykins, 74, of Niles, releases a butterfly at the Cancer Survivorship Day celebration on Sunday. Lykins, a survivor of colon cancer, is a retired surgical nurse from Trumbull Memorial Hospital which co-sponsored the event with their foundation and the American Cancer Society.
When she was 1 year old, Lehmann, now 45, was diagnosed with a Wilms' tumor, a type of kidney cancer that most often strikes children. She went through chemotherapy and radiation along with having a kidney and her adrenal gland removed. At the time, she had a 15 percent chance of survival.
Lehmann said looking at her baby pictures, she never thought she'd have to see herself like that again. However, 11 months ago she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.
A 5-cm lump was removed from her chest and, along with radiation and chemotherapy, she underwent a mastectomy. The treatment resulted in her having neuropathy in both her hands and arms, leaving her unable to continue her beloved job as a server at Pizza Hut.
"Trumbull Memorial Hospital was there from the beginning, and they continue to be there today," she said.
The cost and road to recovery has led her to a new place on her life where she is now determined to share her story with others while starting her own business.
"It's everything. I want people to know that mammograms are essential for life," she said.
Along with hoping to get into public speaking, Lehmann has begun a FaceBook page "Team Faith of Southington" to help connect women with breast cancer to the organizations that helped her. She also runs Eternally Sweet Chocolates From Home since leaving her job as a server.
Lehmann was not the only survivor with a story of hardship and perseverance; 45 survivors were in attendance in total. Marian Smith is an 8-month survivor of breast cancer.
"I was diagnosed a month before my 80th birthday. My faith and trust in God - without them I wouldn't have been as strong as I was," she said.
Debora Bishop, ValleyCare community relations director, help to organize the event. The day is held nationally by the American Cancer Society, which encourages areas to hold local celebrations.
"There are some long-time cancer survivors here and they look forward to it," she said. "They have a lot to celebrate when you think about it."
The event concluded with its traditional butterfly release.