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Dr. Andrea Cheville, director of the Mayo cancer rehabilitation program, fits Esther Turner with balloon Vikings horns during the National Cancer Survivor’s Day celebration, Sunday at the Rochester International Event Center. Dr. Cheville and Olmsted orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Bob Kurland, fashioned balloon toys for event attendees.

Strength comes in numbers.

On Sunday afternoon, more than 200 people gathered at the Rochester International Event Center to celebrate life and triumph over cancer; those diagnosed with cancer, currently receiving treatment, or who have defeated the disease shared testimonies, tears, hugs and support.

Sponsored by the André Gauthier Foundation, and co-hosted by the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center and the American Cancer Society, this year's celebration was themed "A Celebration of Life: Chinese New Year." Amidst red paper lanterns, balloon artists and musicians, cancer survivors and their families shared their stories.

More than 17 million people are diagnosed with cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society, which spent $151 million on research in 2015. Since 1946, nearly $46 billion has been spent trying to improve cancer treatments, educate the public on prevention and fund studies.

"So many people are surviving longer," said Kathy Scheid, patient navigator manager for the American Cancer Society. "They are also more willing to talk about it. They appreciate the camaraderie."

A little more than two years ago, Jerome Lensing, 64, of Rochester was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Lensing described being caught "completely off-guard" by the diagnosis.

As he struggled to cope with the idea of having cancer, he lost his job, making him "mad at the world."

After four chemo and 12 radiation treatments, Lensing is in remission. On Sunday, he shared his story proudly and with a smile. He was alive and able to share with others who have faced similar experiences.

Lensing volunteers at the celebration every year to offer his testimony and hope to those who may be struggling to cope with their own diagnosis. Support from his loved ones was what fueled his desire to fight cancer.

"It put life into perspective," Lensing said. "You can't bury your head and get depressed. That's where the support of my wife, kids, and grandkids came in. It was tremendous, and very heartwarming."

Andre Osmond, 43, also a Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor, was diagnosed in 2003. Now cancer-free, he attends the gathering every year.

Seeing even more survivors defeating the insidious illness was something that brought Osmond hope.

"Don't take anything for granted," he said. "You have to take things one day at a time."

​​Have some regional news from Dodge, Fillmore, or Mower County that you'd like to share? Contact Hannah at 507-285-7744, or by email at hyang@postbulletin.com

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