LLU Cancer Institute holds 15th annual Celebration of Life for cancer survivors
Jan Kroetz (right) and her granddaughter, Katelyn Kroetz, present the Courage to Care Award to Steneli Lamberte, RN, in honor of Donny Kroetz, who died in 1997 from leukemia.
On June 4, the Loma Linda University Cancer Institute, in collaboration with the American Cancer Society, hosted the 15th Annual Celebration of Life for cancer survivors and their families and friends. The event provided a chance for survivors to share encouraging stories with each other.
The highlight of the afternoon was the presentation given by Jackie Pflug, an airline highjacking survivor as well as a cancer survivor. She survived a bullet to the head in 1985 on a highjacked Egypt Air plane in Malta.
“We’ve all been hijacked in life and held captive by something, whether it be fear or sickness,” Ms. Pflug opened. “But it’s not about the story. It’s about how we rise above the story. It’s all about making choices.”
Ms. Pflug told of her job experience in Europe and how that led her to a job in Cairo, Egypt.
“Cairo taught me to slow down,” said Ms. Pflug. “I learned that all I need to be happy is my friends and family and not much else.”
She went on to explain how a trip with the girl’s volleyball team to Athens, Greece, turned into a nightmare.
“It was a beautiful day,” she described to t
Jackie Pflug, airline highjacking survivor and cancer survivor, provided the keynote address at the Celebration of Life event.
he audience of the day her plane was taken over by terrorists. “Blue sky and fluffy white clouds, my favorite kind of day. I thought it would be the last time I would ever see my world.”
One of only three Americans aboard the plane, she clearly remembers being shot.
“The 38 pistol was pressed hard against my head,” she recalled. “I felt a heavy feeling in my head. Then it feels like I’m floating—what I don’t realize at the time is that I’m actually bouncing down the stairs—and finally I hit something hard. My first thought was, ‘No one knows that heaven is hard!’ So I open my eyes and I see I’m on the runway.”
After five hours of waiting on the tarmac, phasing in and out of consciousness, paramedics were finally able to retrieve her. They first took her off to the morgue, before they realized she was still alive. The gun was so close to her head that the bullet never penetrated her skull, it simply crushed the entire right side of it into her brain.
“I believe what first appears in our lives as a major setback is really a chance to test our strength for something better,” said Ms. Pflug
Jessica Parido, a 17-year-old cancer survivor, sings a tribute to her younger sister, Kristina, who donated stem cells for Jessica’s bone marrow transplant.
. She recalled being severely depressed during the first four years after the incident and told the audience sometimes the only way out of a rut is to behave your way to success.
“I got tired of being who I let myself become,” said Ms. Pflug. She noted how choosing to have a positive, cheerful, and expectant attitude helped her change her behaviors. Being grateful and not worrying also played a big role. In 2003, 18 years after the hijacking, Ms. Pflug regained a 12th-grade reading level.
In April 2004 doctors diagnosed her with stage 2 colon cancer at the age of 49.
“It brought me to my knees emotionally,” she said. She asked the ‘why me’ questions and struggled with how much one person can endure. But her previous recovery taught her that life is about the choices one makes. And again she chose to behave her way to success.
Celebration of Life is a day set aside each year to pause to honor cancer survivors. The event is planned as a joyous celebration for cancer survivors and a time to thank family members, friends, and health care professionals for their unending help and support. It is also a day designed to help raise community awareness regarding the more than 8.9 million Americans that are living as cancer survivors.
By Preston Smith