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Cancer Survivors Honored for Courage, Resilience

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Amber Horn, who survived spinal cord cancer, spoke at the Cancer Survivors Day luncheon June 16.

Tears, cheers and laughter animated the 31st Annual Cancer Survivors Day luncheon on June 16 at the Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. Two banquet rooms were needed to accommodate more than 500 survivors, their friends and family, and Cedars-Sinai staff who attended.

The invitation-only event is open to cancer survivors from the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, including its affiliates.

"This isn't just a luncheon. It's a really important day that validates and celebrates all that our patients have been through, and applauds their resiliency," said Arash Asher, MD, director of the Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship program at the cancer institute.

Cancer survivors’ stories — including those of speakers Amber Horn and Shelly Gossman — inspired the audience.

"Amber and Shelly weren't pollyannaish about their difficult journeys, but they also made it clear that cancer doesn't have to take away your joy or your ability to embrace life," Asher said.

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Terri Crumpton, diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2015, celebrated her triumph over cancer at the luncheon.

Horn, 38, spoke about being diagnosed with spinal cord cancer seven years ago. A successful Hollywood casting director, she likened her medical journey to a comedy/horror movie.

"There was a monster inside my spinal cord that would likely leave me paralyzed," she said. That prognosis played out, but not permanently. After spending a year in a wheelchair, the Texas native regained her mobility.

The comedy tag, she explained, "reflects the laughter I deployed to get through some of the toughest moments," including excruciating post-surgical pain, grueling radiation treatments and chemotherapy.

"I learned how strong I am," Horn said. “I learned that anything is possible, and you can't stop believing." One word summed up her greatest takeaway: "gratitude."

Also at the podium was Gossman, a comedian whose credits include popular television shows like Saturday Night Live and Raising Hope, and The Second City comedy club in Chicago. She riffed on the root of her current happiness.

"I'm 39 and can't wait to turn 40," she said. "A lot of my friends are sad about getting older, but I couldn't be happier. Cancer makes me appreciate every day, every wrinkle, every person who cuts me off in traffic. Honking reminds me I'm alive!"

She has faced cancer twice, so that outcome was far from certain.

At 23, the Wisconsin native was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. A five-year battle ensued that Gossman won.

While working the main stage at The Second City, she was asked by Gilda's Club Chicago — a cancer-support organization — to teach patients improvisational comedy techniques as a means of managing stress. Gossman accepted and found a new calling.

"It was one of the best things I'd ever done in my life," she said.

Television writing gigs landed Gossman in Los Angeles, but at age 36 an unexpected plot twist arose: triple negative breast cancer. "I started chemo on my first wedding anniversary," she said, fighting back tears.

Gossman prevailed over what she jokingly dubbed "Cancer Part Two: Electric Boogaloo." She recently started writing for A.P. Bio, an NBC sitcom premiering this season, and has returned to teaching improv as a cancer-coping tool.

In closing, Robert Figlin, MD, deputy director of the cancer institute's integrated oncology service line, told guests, although Cedars-Sinai already is Southern California's largest cancer-care provider, it's committed to growing its cancer-care network.

"I thank each of you for sharing part of your day with us," Figlin said. “And congratulations to all on your inspiring journeys."

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Stephanie Lovick of Marina del Rey was at the luncheon to celebrate completing breast cancer treatment.