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cancerpaloozaAs I mentioned before, during one of my conversations with a social worker from the cancer center, I was asked what I was planning to do when I was done with treatment.  I hadn’t thought about it too much, but I liked the idea of using our family band for an evening of live music and dancing.

You see, my dad is a published music composer and one of his hobbies is arranging popular recorded music into sheet music for our live band to perform.  He listens to the song and then breaks it down by instrument.  He is a very talented man!  Then our family band (which includes several of my dad’s former students who we consider adopted family by now) performs the songs at dances or other celebrations (like my wedding reception).  I thought it would only be natural to have this band play at a celebration when I finished my cancer treatment.

So Cancerpalooza was born.

cancerpalooza decorations

We wanted a larger venue than the church gym that we normally use, so we opted for the cafetorium at a local school.  I didn’t want the decorations to be too stressful or involved, but I definitely didn’t want it to feel like a school cafeteria.  After researching a few ideas for decorating large venues, we decided that the main decor would come from helium balloons.  Balloons just make me happy!  We made long strings of balloons that reached to the tall ceilings of the cafetorium and the strings were then anchored on top of “pub tables” that we had repurposed from some other decorations.

ladybug with balloon bouquet - cancerpalooza

We also had several large balloon bouquets around the gym.  Ladybug was fascinated by her ability to carry such a large item around and kept grabbing one of the bouquets from the stage.

Along one side of the room we had three tables set up as a “kid area”.

cancerpalooza card decorating

The first table held a card-making station, at which the kids (and adults) could decorate cards for hospitalized children (there is a website,, that accepts donations of hand-decorated cards).  There were a few requirements that we needed to follow, so we had instructions at the table along with all of the card decorating supplies.

cancer-fighting tattoo cancerpalooza

At the second table, guests were able to put on a cancer-fighting temporary tattoo.  I wasn’t sure about the logistics of bulk tattoo application when we didn’t have easy access to a sink.  Did we use wet washcloths?  Spray bottles with paper towels?  Then it came to me – – WET WIPES!  So we just had the tattoos, wet wipes, instructions, and a little garbage can at the table.  Worked like a charm!

The third kid table was full of kid-friendly snacks:  Juice boxes, crackers, chips, fruit snacks.

cancerpalooza food table

Along the back wall we had the main snack tables.  We liked the idea of having different types of popcorn, but we didn’t like the idea of having open bowls of popcorn at the beginning of cold and flu season.  So my mom made and packaged all of the snacks for the evening into individual servings.  We had kettle corn, Killian corn, moose munch, Chex mix, chocolate covered pretzels, and peanuts with M&M’s.  We had a variety of bottled drinks.  We kept it simple because we were going to be up on stage most of the night…we didn’t want to be mixing punch in our limited spare time.  We wanted to be able to delegate the babysitting of the refreshments without overwhelming our helpers.

(Speaking of our helpers, I used a Google doc to organize the sign-ups for the different tasks that we needed help with.  That way, whenever someone asked if I needed anything prior to the party, I just emailed them the link to the Google doc so they could sign up for something by typing their name into the document.  Super slick and I will DEFINITELY be doing that again in the future.)

As guests arrived, we had a name tag table manned by awesome volunteers.  Instead of a traditional “Hi, my name is…” name tag, I added a second line: “…and I am Stephanie’s ___________ ”  I thought it would be fun for guests to see who everyone was (childhood friend, co-worker, friend from church, etc) and it would help with the mingling!  Each name tag had a number in the corner, which was used for a door prize drawing later in the evening. For the door prizes, I gave away gift cards that were attached to one of the foods that got me through chemo (Snickers bars, lemonade, Smartfood popcorn).

The volunteers at the name tag table were also watching for any members of my cancer team, because we had a special necklace for them to wear to help them stand out from the crowd.  The slightly cheesy, flashing pink-and-white hearts were the perfect way for other guests to notice these important people and give them a special welcome.

My family also decided that we would wear cancer-themed t-shirts.  You can find the one that I wore on Amazon – – just click this link.

Then came the music.

singing at cancerpalooza

It felt so good to get on stage! The first half of the evening mainly included songs that were important to me during cancer treatment, or that had messages of hope or celebration.  The second half of the evening was devoted to music that was just fun for us to perform.  The only exception to this set-up was the grand finale, where I sang “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from Burlesque.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to get through it without crying if I was just standing there singing, so I opted to play the piano while I sang that song.  We gave everyone pink and white glow sticks to wave during the grand finale. As awesome as that final moment was, I think the highlight of the night for me (musically AND emotionally) was when the crowd assembled on the dance floor to yell “BURN THE WHITE FLAG” during the chorus of my cancer theme song. (If you want to see my awesome cancer-fighting playlist, check out this post.)

This was an incredible night.  It was important for me to have this evening of music to not only celebrate the end of my treatment, but to thank the many people who helped our family get through this difficult time.  It was the perfect way for me and my family to leave cancer treatment behind us and focus our sights on the future.  Thank you to everyone who helped make Cancerpalooza possible.


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