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Cancer survivors share stories, strength

When Corky Gaskell was invited to participate in the Rochester annual cancer survivor’s day this year, it wasn’t because he is a 29-year cancer survivor.

Corky Gaskell, left, team captain of the Rochester Roosters, chats after a luncheon for cancer survivors at the Rochester International Event Center on Sunday afternoon. Gaskell is a 29-year cancer survivor.

When Corky Gaskell was invited to participate in the Rochester annual cancer survivor’s day this year, it wasn’t because he is a 29-year cancer survivor.

Gaskell was invited as team captain of the Rochester Roosters Base Ball Club in keeping with the baseball theme of this year’s event.

Being a cancer survivor wasn’t an identity he embraced.

"Honestly, in the last 29 years, I’ve thought nothing of it," Gaskell said.

He was one of about 700 people attending the Sunday afternoon event at the Rochester International Event Center; and one of hundreds of cancer survivors in attendance. Members of the Roosters and the Rochester Royals attended the event. Most attendees wore a baseball hat or jersey. A scoreboard displayed the number of cancer survivors in the US — more than 15 million people.


Janine Kokal, an organizer of the event, is also an oncology nurse. She said some cancer survivors prefer not to embrace the title or identity of cancer survivor.

"Some people don’t want to have anything to do with it," she said.

Others find a family in survivors and helping people as they go through treatment.

"Once you’ve had that diagnosis and go through treatment, you never go back to not having had that experience," Kokal said.

Gaskell said he never actively rejected being a cancer survivor, he just never thought much about how his experience could help someone else. To him, it was just a painful experience he went through and moved on, he said.

"I kind of thought of it like stubbing a toe," he said. "It hurts, but you move on."

This was the first year he has attended the survivor’s day lunch. He learned how survivor stories can be a source of comfort for people diagnosed with cancer.

"For anybody who might need any support at all, this is an absolute treasure trove of people," he said.


For some survivors, helping people going through something they’re familiar with becomes a part of their identity.

"You have people helping you and guiding you and make it a little more gentle a process," Kokal said.

Jay Masters now works with survivors through Mayo Clinic. He lost his voice to throat cancer after a three-decade career as a broadcaster and voice-over talent. He gained a new voice speaking to people dealing with cancer, he told the crowd Sunday. Despite helping pilot a program to help cancer survivors navigate treatment, diagnosis or the city, Masters said he was humble to speak before a crowd of people with similar stories.

"It seems a little bit odd to give a cancer story because everybody here has a story," Masters said.

The key to his position was just listening, which he urged other survivors to do if they want to help people diagnosed with cancer.

"It’s about them," he said.

The annual lunch started as a small, informal picnic with a couple dozen attendees. This year, hundreds attended the event. The event has been sponsored by the André Gauthier Foundation for the past eight years to allow cancer survivors and a pair of guests attend at no cost. The Mayo Clinic Cancer Center and the American Cancer Society also hosted the event. KIMT meteorologist Chris Nelson emceed the luncheon.

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