The sight, smell and taste of warm apple crisp served as a symbol of hope for Denise McCombs a little more than a year ago, when she was still in a fog following months of cancer radiation treatments.
It was within that blurry state that McCombs attended her first Viva la Vida event, hosted by the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara with Sansum Clinic for cancer survivors and their families.
Her body had been present, but her mind — still reeling from fighting the deadly tumor near her heart — was not.
On Saturday, McCombs returned to the daylong celebration of life on Santa Barbara City College’s West Campus and found new reasons to hope in the form of fellow survivors.
McCombs proudly wore a pin boasting more than a year in remission, and happily embraced her good friend and fellow Santa Barbara resident, Sandy Mistretta — the supporter responsible for her steady supply of that delicious crumbly dessert.
“I can enjoy it,” McCombs said of the event. “It gives me hope.
“She’s 18!” McCombs said a moment later, motioning toward an elderly woman walking by with an 18-year survivor pin. “It’s just a special bond. I’ve learned to appreciate people instead of things.”
Saturday’s 23rd annual event resembled a sort of family reunion for the 1,000 attendees, bound together in battle and eager to share their stories as inspiration for those not as far along on the journey to recovery.
Hosted in honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, Viva la Vida featured free massages, popcorn, ice cream, manicures, crafts, face painting and more from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“It’s a day to forget about cancer and just celebrate life,” said Lindsay Groark, marketing manager with the Cancer Center. “It provides a lot of hope for those folks.”
Celebrating with those who have also experienced the highs and lows of cancer helped make Cherry Post, 69, the happiest she has felt in a long time.
Doctors, who found a tumor in Post’s brain eight months ago, have helped her recently reach remission.
“I really love to meet up with people who have cancer,” Post told Noozhawk. “You feel a camaraderie with people who go through it. It’s nice to share the stories.”
Post described the excellent care she’s received from the Cancer Center, grateful she was able to do chemotherapy and participate in extra free services without having to leave Santa Barbara.
Midsentence, Post was kindly interrupted by some friendly faces, one of which smiled and exclaimed, “Last time I saw you, you were getting chemo!”
The acquaintances shared a brief exchange, sounding more like old friends talking about their lives — ones they weren’t guaranteed just a few short months ago.
“The Cancer Center has been like a second family to me,” Post said. “And now every day I wake up and can get out of bed. Yeah, life is great.”