In a lot of ways, the last couple of days have been comforting for Elaine Knauf.
A 14-year cancer survivor, Monday was only the second time in her life Knauf got to experience what it was like to sit, share and just be around other cancer survivors — an experience she called "spiritual."
"Unless you're a cancer survivor, you have no idea what it feels like until you get around other survivors," Knauf said. "We share, even the littlest tiny thing, we share that, and it just brings emotions up, and we just can't talk to people like that.
"The only ones who really understand are survivors," Knauf added.
Knauf lost her two youngest sisters and other family members to breast cancer, which encouraged her to regularly schedule routine checkups. After being diagnosed with breast cancer after one of those checkups, Knauf underwent a 21-hour surgery that included a DIEP flap, and six months of chemotherapy until she became a survivor a little over 14 years ago.
Now, Knauf tries lift spirits as much as she can, as she tries to impart gifts with other people who have similar stories.
"I bring stuff like bracelets, charms, I always take it to my oncologist so they can distribute to new diagnoses or ones that have gone through a lot, that are still going through a chemo," Knauf said.
Sporting her Chargers shoes, socks and earrings, Knauf was one of the many cancer survivors on hand with the American Cancer Society during Monday's win as part of the NFL's Crucial Catch initiative.
"The experience, I can't even describe it," Knauf said. "It was just so calming, too. Knowing that you're not alone, it was just nice. It was just really nice."
Knauf was one of the survivors in attendance at last week's "Special Pamper Day", an event hosted by the Chargers partnering with the Pechanga Casino & Resort and the American Cancer Society.
The Chargers teamed up with Pechanga Casino & Resort to host a special spa and pampering day for 12 breast cancer survivors in honor of Crucial Catch month. The survivors were treated to massages and facials at Pechanga's state of the art facility and were treated to lunch with Amy Staley, wife of Head Coach Brandon Staley.
The event at Pechanga took place Thursday, as breast cancer survivors were treated to massages and facials and were also treated to lunch with Amy Staley, the wife of Head Coach Brandon Staley.
The spa day was great by itself, but the opportunity to spend time with other survivors is what stood out to Knauf the most.
"The whole experience is just hard to describe, being able to do this with other survivors," Knauf said about the event. "That they know, all we have to do is look at each other and they already know what I'm thinking, I know what they're thinking, and we don't even have to have words.
"We have conversations by just looking at each other. It's indescribable," Knauf added.
Brandon Staley underwent his own battle with cancer, as he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma at 24 years old. Amy Staley, who was at the event Thursday, spoke about how special it was for her given her family's history with cancer.
"Cancer is a part of Brandon's story and his family's, so there will always be a connection when we're amongst other survivors," Amy Staley said. "But I personally love surrounding myself with strong women. Women who have perspective, courage and grace. These women took it to a whole new level.
"It's inspiring to hear their stories and equally as uplifting to learn what many of them are doing to support others who are going through their own breast cancer fight now," Staley added.
The day achieved what Knauf mentioned — bringing them all together.
"It brought me so much joy to see these women relaxing and enjoying each other's company on this day of pampering," Staley said. "The Chargers and Pechanga partnered to give these women a special day…relaxation and survivor sisterhood. That is beautiful!"
Heather Birdsall, the Chargers Vice President of Community Relations, emphasized the importance of taking care of each other, and what this event hoped to bring to the survivors.
"We are thankful to be partnering with Pechanga and the American Cancer Society to host some amazing women for some relaxation and connection," Birdsall said. "It is important that we take the time to care of ourselves and each other, especially when the burden we are carrying can be heavy and overwhelming.
"We hope all patients and survivors know we are rooting for them and celebrating their survivorship today and every day," Birdsall added.
As the event passed and Knauf reflected on the experiences, she knows that it is important to celebrate being a survivor.
"While it's sad that we are people with cancer, it's fabulous that we're survivors and we're still here, and we count," Knauf said. "We celebrate every year."
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