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Living a life after cancer

Wayne Benz, of Mitchell, and Chuck Mentele, of Epiphany, both cancer survivors and retired commercial truck drivers, talk Thursday while taking a tour of the Avera Cancer Institute for the National Cancer Survivors Day celebration in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

Cancer care doesn't end with the final treatment and a declaration of being cancer-free.

That was the theme on Thursday, and the celebration held at the Avera Cancer Institute (formerly the Avera Cancer Center) in Mitchell.

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The celebration held in honor of National Cancer Survivors Day had special T-shirts for survivors and ice cream for their friends and family. More importantly, it put an emphasis on "survivorship," or the phase that cancer survivors experience once active treatment is over, said director Charlene Berke.

"It really is an emphasis of care for the whole person," she said. "When you build up a relationship between the staff here, and that ends when active treatment is over, that can be tough. We want them to know that we're still here to help."

The Mitchell facility sees about 275 active treatment patients every year, Berke said. Focusing on life after cancer, she said, is a good problem to have.

"We're curing more and more cancer every day. And so being able to help those who are living a life after cancer is something that we have to be increasingly conscious of and make sure that's something we're promoting."

Some of the elements include emotional and social support groups and helping patients get back into doing the things they love. Staffers at the celebration on Thursday encouraged cancer survivors to take photos of themselves doing things that they love to do, to show that cancer did not "steal their spirit."

A new page on the institute's website includes a form to specialize follow-up care, links to additional resources from other survivorship resources, such as the American Cancer Society and testimonials from other survivors.

Avera Cancer Institute Radiation Oncologist Stephen Dick said they try to put patients at ease as much as possible, especially considering cancer is never easy. He said the care extends back to primary care physicians and specialists during regular checkups.

"We always try to make sure we have them taken care of, even as they're getting their care closer to home or after active treatments are finished," Dick said.

In its 27th year on a national scale, National Cancer Survivors Day, which was officially celebrated June 1, is an annual event meant to honor those who have a history of cancer and to emphasize life after a cancer diagnosis.

Dorla Verhey, who attended the event, will celebrate two years free of breast cancer on June 28, and while she'll likely have a pill she'll have to take daily for at least the next five years, the Mitchell resident said she's thankful for the care she received.

"I just feel so blessed," Verhey said, wearing her green shirt signifying her survivor status. "I'm very fortunate that they caught it early. I had a mammogram and they found it."

The same can be said for Carla Trytten, of Gregory. She got the news from her doctors last week about becoming cancer free. Good timing, too, she said. She has a couple of weddings to attend this summer when her grandsons tie the knot. She had battled the disease for more than a year.

"I'm enjoying it," Trytten said. "They do a great job of taking care of you, and everyone is friendly. It's nice to be done with the treatments, though."