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Support vital, cancer survivors say

Ruth and Don Layton sat at a table Wednesday discussing their battles against cancer. Mrs. Layton said 24 years ago she looked in a mirror and noticed a lump in her breast. The lump turned out to be cancerous. In 1989, a doctor discovered a suspicious area on her husband's chest X-ray, which turned out to be lung cancer.

"Togetherness can go too far," Layton said, smiling at his wife.

The Laytons were among several hundred guests at the third annual American Cancer Society's Survivor's Day celebration Wednesday evening at Andre's of Citrus Hills.

"The turnout is tremendous," said Candy Tamposi, president of the Citrus County Unit of the ACS. "We almost didn't have it this year because the volunteers were overburdened with other work, but I felt it was important for people to have an opportunity to get together and share their experiences."

And share they did. The room echoed with stories.

"I stopped smoking 17 years ago and had the feeling nothing like that could happen to me," Layton said. "People should absolutely have check-ups and should also think before they light up a cigarette."

Grace Bell, who has just begun her fight with the disease, said it is also important to have faith in your feelings. "I went to a local doctor who told me not to worry but I had a feeling something was wrong," she said. "I went home to New Hampshire and found out I did have cancer."

Bonnie Small, who had a mastectomy six years ago, talked with her friend Pat Paulsen who had the same surgery four years ago. Both women became volunteers after the good experiences they had with those who helped them after their surgery.

The two women stressed the importance of support groups for survivors of cancer.

"When I first found out I had cancer, I didn't want to talk to anyone," Ms. Paulsen said. "A woman came to me from the "Why Me?' group in Chicago and I thought she looked so good and wouldn't understand. When I found out she had already had a mastectomy, it gave me courage."

Ms. Small said sometimes the most important thing for women is to see another woman who has been through the ordeal looks good.

Dr. Jim Fuller, a speaker at the event, said he was more than a little surprised to be speaking as a member of the group. "Previous to 1989 I had no realization I'd be joining this group," he said. "In July of 1990 I had a tumor." Fuller was named the society's volunteer of the year.

Fuller stressed the importance of support and the changed outlook survivors experience. "Survivors of cancer are a group who can see deeper into life and appreciate friends and experiences more strongly," he said. "A catastrophe is something we should use."

An Inverness group named "Look Good, Feel Better" was honored for efforts to make patients feel better about their appearances.