CANCER: Survivors in Focus at the David J. Sencer CDC Museum

Last week, I had my first taste of planning an event with the CDC Foundation. It was a fantastic experience that brought home to me why I do the work that I do.

Accenture event at CDC MuseumIn recognition of the growing number of cancer survivors, CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control brought the inspiring exhibition, CANCER: Survivors in Focus, to the David J. Sencer CDC Museum in mid-June. The exhibit, which runs through September 10, tells survivors' stories through the work of three photographers who examine cancer survivorship in different contexts: globally, in the United States and among CDC employees. Photographer and ovarian cancer survivor Carolyn Taylor presents Without Borders: The Global Face of Cancer, which portrays cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and medical professionals in 14 countries. John Kaplan's Not As I Pictured is an autobiographical account of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist's unexpected cancer journey. And of particular relevance to the CDC community is photographer Bryan Meltz’s series, Close to Home: CDC’s Stories of Survivorship. This piece highlights the impact of cancer on the CDC workforce by telling the stories of 12 CDC employees, working in different offices throughout the agency, who have survived cancer.

The CDC Foundation had the honor of coordinating a special panel presentation and reception, supported by Accenture, to both draw the Atlanta community to the exhibit and to initiate a dialogue about how employers can support employees living with, through and beyond cancer. We were able to put together a stellar panel, consisting of: Harold Freeman, M.D., founder of the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute; Kevin Stein, Ph.D., managing director of the American Cancer Society’s Behavioral Research Center; John Saunders, vice president of Human Resources at UPS; and Liz York, A.I.A., LEED AP, CNU-A, associate director for Quality and Sustainability at CDC and a cancer survivor featured in the exhibit. Marcus Plescia, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, moderated the panel.

Accenture eventCharlie Stokes, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation, started the night with a powerful anecdote. Recently, in promoting this event to various groups in the Atlanta community, he asked people touched by cancer to raise their hands. Charlie said that in every group he talked to, every single person raised a hand. 

Dr. Freeman spoke to the fact that here in the United States, we have a great discovery system when it comes to healthcare, but not always such a good delivery system. He emphasized that Americans “do not have equal access to the continuum of life” and discussed how helping patients navigate through cancer care can level the playing field. 

Mr. Saunders spoke to the various systems in place that allow UPS to support employees diagnosed with cancer: excellent benefits, personal health coaches, caregiver support, flexibility. According to Saunders, “CDC helps UPS run our business” and provides “guidance as to how we help our employees.” 

Dr. Stein spoke specifically about the fears faced by employees diagnosed with cancer and how they can best communicate their diagnosis to an employer. He spoke about the excellent programs American Cancer Society has in place, like CEOs Against Cancer and a biennial corporate impact conference, to get business leaders thinking about how to best support employees living with and through cancer.  

Perhaps most poignant of the evening was Liz York’s description of her cancer diagnosis and treatment experience. Her statement that being featured in this exhibit finally gave her a reason to tell her children that she is a cancer survivor, something she has kept from them for the past five years, shows that this exhibit is getting the dialogue started in every sense of the word.  

Learn more about  CDC's work in cancer prevention and control.

Featured in photos: Top left (L-R): Ursula Bauer, Ph.D., M.P.H., Director, National Center of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC; Charles Stokes, President and CEO, CDC Foundation; Marcus Plescia, M.D., M.P.H., Director, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, CDC; Harold Freeman, M.D., Founder, the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute; Liz York, A.I.A., LEED AP, CNU-A, Associate Director for Quality and Sustainability, CDC, and a cancer survivor featured in the exhibit; John Saunders, Vice President of Human Resources, UPS. Bottom Right (L-R): Vincent Woody, Business Development Executive, Accenture Federal Services; Les Lewis, Senior Manager, Accenture Federal Services.

Alison Thompson, MPA, is the associate vice president for advancement for the CDC Foundation.