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Twenty-Year Cancer Survivor Will Speak at Duke's Annual Power of Knowledge Seminar

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- In a place where saving lives is the norm, doctors reserve the word "miracle" for the truly astonishing. Nancy Emerson has earned that title. Cancer has ravaged her body for 20 years, yet she carries herself with the grace, humor, optimism and energy of a lady with all the world's riches within her grasp.

Indeed, Emerson considers herself to be supremely lucky: lucky to be alive, lucky to be feeling well, to contribute to modern science, to nurture others in the throes of their cancer ordeal.

It is this very attitude, coupled with strong faith, that Emerson credits for her miraculous survival throughout her unbelievable journey. Diagnosed in 1982 with breast cancer, she has been on nearly every novel cancer therapy and clinical trial that Duke has to offer.

"I'm happy and upbeat all the time," said Emerson, whose cancer has spread to her spine, skull, clavicle, ribs, pelvis, femurs, liver and lungs since 1993. Miraculously, the latest round of treatments obliterated nearly 30 tumors in her lungs and liver.

"I say there is always hope. Don't say you are going to die and you have no choice," said Emerson. "In 1985, the statistics for my survival were two years. I decided that I wasn't going to be a statistic. I decided I would be a partner on this team and help myself live. I would much rather die with hope than live with hopelessness."

Emerson will share this message of inspiration with women throughout the Triangle during the annual Power of Knowledge Luncheon, sponsored by the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program (DCPSP). It is more than just a rally to lift the spirits of women and cancer patients. Her goal is to empower women to rely on their own inner "hero" to conjure the innate survival instinct inherent in us all.

"You have to find the hero inside you before you can survive," said Emerson. "There are a lot of heroes in our lives -- our doctors, our families -- but you have to find your own within."

Emerson didn't start her journey with such optimism. There were dark moments and intensive periods of soul-searching before she reached her present state of thinking. Still, she channeled that energy toward helping others, and shortly after her first cancer recurred she became one of the first volunteers for the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program. Today, the program serves approximately 7,000 patients each year and offers a dozen support groups for women, men and their families.

The support program's annual fund-raiser, the Duke Power of Knowledge Seminar Series, has a three-fold purpose: to raise money in support of Duke cancer patients; to educate women about cancer and thereby empower them to be their own health advocates; and to honor a woman with cancer by bestowing upon her the Jonquils Award.

Emerson, as the guest speaker, will receive this year's Jonquils Award, given to individuals who have made significant contributions toward the fight against cancer. She has received numerous awards over the years, including North Carolina's Most Distinguished Woman in Business Award in 1996, the President's Award at Duke in 2000 and the Light of Hope Award from the DCPSP in 2000.

Following Emerson's speech, Andrew Berchuck, M.D., of Duke's division of gynecologic oncology, will give a lecture titled, "Current Advances in Gynecologic Cancer Treatment." Afterward, a panel of Duke experts will lead a question and answer session. Panelists will include George Leight, M.D., breast cancer; Larry Marks, M.D., radiation oncology; and James Grichnik, M.D., melanoma.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program at (919) 684-4497.

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