Three is Harmony performs at Sunday’s National Cancer Survivors’ Day Celebration at the Southwest Vermont Regional Cancer Center. (Derek
Three is Harmony performs at Sunday’s National Cancer Survivors’ Day Celebration at the Southwest Vermont Regional Cancer Center. (Derek Carson)

BENNINGTON -- The Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center celebrated the 27th annual National Cancer Survivors Day on Sunday with free food, music, and massages.

The cancer center began its celebration of the holiday with a small tree-planting ceremony in the early 1990s, according to practice manager Wendy Petitt. The tree planted that day still stands near the entrance to the facility, and the event has now grown to include between 250-300 participants every year. "The theme is food, music, and celebration," said Petitt, who noted that everything was donated either by the hospital or community organizations. "The only thing we had to pay for was the tent," she said, "It really is a community event."

The cancer center mailed more than 1,000 postcards inviting cancer survivors to the celebration. "Some people may not have received treatment here, they may have just moved to the area recently," said Petitt, who said the goal was to be as inclusive as possible.

Three is Harmony provided the musical aspect of the event, performing such songs as Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" and Carole King's "It's Too Late." Studio 210, of Bennington, provided free massages while volunteers painted faces, cooked burgers and hot dogs, and made sure that survivors registered for a free raffle. Among the prizes given away were jewelry sets, gift cards, Corse Farm maple syrup, a Bennington Potters mug, a wallet, two scarves, and a homemade quilt.

Traditionally observed on the first Sunday of June, National Cancer Survivors Day is "a celebration for those who have survived, an inspiration for those recently diagnosed, a gathering of support for families, and an outreach to the community," according to the website of the nonprofit National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation.

The local event came a day after the inaugural Cupcake Crusade and Community Remembrance Day, which at first count raised more than $30,000 for the cancer center.

After everyone had eaten, several speakers from the cancer center addressed the attendees, although Petitt promised that speech lengths would be kept to a minimum. Survivors were invited to tell their stories as well, but none volunteered. "This sight just warms my heart," said Petitt, "I'm so happy to be with you all today."

Carol Conroy, chief nursing officer and vice president of operations at the hospital, said, "Thank you for letting us care for you, and thank you for letting us tell your stories."

Cancer center director Orion Howard, addressing all of the gathered survivors, said, "Remember, this day is about all of you."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB