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Cancer expo, survivor conference give patients tools, hope

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29 2012 3:42 p.m. MDT

In this file photo, cancer survivors Linda Hill and Dov Siporin (standing) are honored during the dedication of the Huntsman Cancer Institute\'s new state-of-the-art $100 million expansion in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. They were both treated at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Governor Gary Herbert is on the bottom left. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) In this file photo, cancer survivors Linda Hill and Dov Siporin (standing) are honored during the dedication of the Huntsman Cancer Institute\'s new state-of-the-art $100 million expansion in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. They were both treated at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Governor Gary Herbert is on the bottom left. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SANDY — Dov Siporin doesn't know if he'll make it to the end of his kids' school year — he actually doesn't know if he'll live through today.

But having terminal colorectal cancer hasn't stopped the 38-year-old Salt Lake City man from living each day to its fullest.

"I go on as if I'm going to live forever," he said.

Making light of the life-sapping disease, Siporin dresses in costumes, jokes with doctors and nurses, divvies out candy during his more than 5,000 hours of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and tries his best to "find something good in my life every day, something that makes the pain worthwhile," he said.

"Making the decision to survive was the greatest decision I made in this journey," Siporin told a room full of cancer survivors and their caregivers at Saturday's annual Cancer Survivorship Conference.

The Utah Cancer Action Network conference was held in conjunction with the first-ever Cancer Awareness Expo, put on by the Huntsman Cancer Institute, at the South Towne Expo Center. The free event provided access to a variety of tools and resources ranging from pre-diagnosis and healthy living, to research and treatment options and end of life care.

Cece, the giant, inflatable colon, also made an appearance at the expo, informing visitors about the importance of early diagnosis.

Niki Alpers, a health educator at the Huntsman Cancer Institute's learning center, said that while the oversized visual aid garners a lot of jokes, it is an important learning tool, as it illustrates beginning and advanced stages of colon cancer.

"There is a psychological barrier people face when thinking about having a tube put up your back side," said Sandy resident Sterling Swan, who became more proactive about cancer screening after his wife was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma six years ago. "It is so easy for people to put off getting tested, they just say, 'I'll do it next year.'"

The word, cancer, he said, "terrifies people."

"Cancer was always something other people got. It's an alien concept for most people, including me," Swan, 58, said. "Cancer, I realize now, is synonymous with death and the frailty of our bodies."

Even though his wife, Karen, 55, has survived her cancer so far, the diagnosis has changed their relationship, their family and their lives.

"It's like a roller coaster ride without a seat belt," he said. "It has taught me a lot about myself."

Huntsman's facility helped the couple take a holistic approach to healing, involving not only medicine and clinical care, but emotional and spiritual therapy. The staff, he said, was also helpful in supporting him as a caregiver.

"We look at the patient and their family as an extension of our own family," said Terry VanDuren, a registered nurse, who assisted and continues to assist the Swans. A cancer survivor himself, he said many members of the staff have been through the treatments the hospital provides.

VanDuren said a lot of the stereotypes about cancer treatment — losing hair, persistent nausea, weight loss, an inability to eat, and more — are being erased by emerging research and new treatments.

"We're getting this figured out," he said.

Sadie Gabler, a research participant advocate at the University of Utah, said the only thing that stands between patients and a cure for cancer is time. She works to recruit cancer patients for a national registry of ongoing clinical trials. The sooner a researcher's quota is filled, the more quickly the research can progress, she said, adding that decreasing lab time results in lower medical costs for consumers.

The university is one of 60 institutions in the country and the only one in Utah that receives funding to generate awareness about cancer-related trials. Gabler said the state's "altruistic population" helps.

"The only way we make medical advances is through research," she said. "It is hugely important, but it takes time to get results."

Interested patients can register online, at www.researchmatch.org and a listing of thousands of ongoing projects can be found at www.clinicaltrials.gov.

"It would be nice to find a cure for cancer within a lifetime," Gabler said.

In addition to education and research involvement, members of the community also touted wig sales, family support services, medical advances and techniques of alternative medicine at the exhibition Saturday.

It is meant to "bring cancer survivors, their families and the community together for something that is educational and uplifting," said Michelle Marthia, UCAN spokeswoman and a breast cancer survivor.

"There's nothing we can do about the fact that we've got cancer," said Tara Steele, Siporin's wife. "What we can do is change the way we react to it."

The couple wrote an obituary and held a wake for the first portion of Siporin's liver that was removed following his stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Their two kids have dressed up like tumors for Halloween and the stories could go on forever. It was all part of making the journey memorable for the good that is sometimes hard to find when dealing with a cancer diagnosis, Steele said.

"None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, we have to enjoy every moment we get," she said.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com Twitter: wendyleonards

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