Step 4: Choose a Theme
Sure, you can skip this step. But planning your event around a central theme is the best way to add interest and create excitement about your celebration. An event theme also helps tie everything together.
Your event’s theme can be anything you want it to be. Here’s a little “themespiration” to get you started:
Enjoy the Ride
Let your guests trade in the roller coaster of cancer treatment for an actual roller coaster ride by holding your event at a local amusement park or water park. Celebrating life at such a fun locale is a surefire way to provide lasting memories for everyone. It’s an especially great option for adolescent, young adult, and childhood cancer survivors.
Cancer Survivors Parade
How better to mark a special day than with a parade? Whether marching down Main Street or around a local racetrack, holding a Cancer Survivors Parade is a great way to involve your community in honoring local cancer survivors, as well as bring much-needed attention to cancer survivorship issues. Your parade can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. Foster unity by having everyone wear official National Cancer Survivors Day® t-shirts. Survivors can carry flags or banners. A local marching band can march and play along your parade route. You can even hold a parade float contest.
The Fabric of Hope
Survivors make quilt squares that represent their cancer journey, and all the squares are later sewn together to create a Quilt of Hope, which can be displayed at your cancer center.
Swinging Toward the Cure
Host a swing dance, complete with a local swing band and swing dancers. Provide some basic swing dance lessons, and then crank up the music so everyone can show off their new moves.
Casino Royale: Tournament of Survivors
Host a casino-themed event where guests can take their turn at the roulette wheel or play slots, poker, or blackjack. Give out tokens for play that can later be redeemed for prizes. (Check out our Merchandise Catalog for prize ideas.)
Light of Hope
Hold a candle-lighting ceremony or candle procession to honor cancer survivors. This is a great theme for events held at churches or synagogues.
A Day of Pampering
Let your guests sit back and relax at a spa-themed event. You can hold your event at a local spa, or create a spa atmosphere at your cancer center. Play soothing music, turn down the lighting, and let guests enjoy spa treatment demos. Offer makeovers and skin care and makeup tips. You can even have someone on hand to talk about massage therapy or the importance of relaxation for cancer survivors. (See our Speakers Bureau Roster for help finding a topical keynote speaker.)
Hope in Motion
Hold a fundraising run/walk or bike race with a registration fee benefiting local cancer support agencies.
Surviving into the Future
Set the stage with space age décor and futuristic music. Maybe even encourage participants to come dressed up as their future selves. Guest speakers can talk about treatment advances and offer a glimpse into the future of cancer survivorship.
Hooray for Hollywood! A Red Carpet Celebration
With this event theme, the survivors are the stars. Hold an awards banquet complete with a red carpet entrance, valet parking, and paparazzi on hand to take photos. You can even encourage participants to dress up as their favorite celebrity. Give out awards to survivors, caregivers, and even medical staff. Some ideas include youngest survivor, best celebrity costume, most years of cancer survivorship, and hardest working nurse.
I Will Survive
Everyone can channel their inner Gloria Gaynor at this disco-themed event. Break out the disco ball, the bell-bottoms, and your best John Travolta moves.
Joie de Vivre
Celebrate the “joy of living” with a Parisian-themed event. Set the mood with French-inspired decorations, music, and food. Have your volunteers wear berets and refer to guests as madame or monsieur. Enlist a mime artist to provide entertainment.
Let’s Get Physical
Get your body moving with a physical fitness event. Encourage celebrants to wear workout gear so they can participate in a group Zumba, yoga, Pilates, or kickboxing class. Invite a guest speaker to offer tips on exercise and healthy living during and after cancer treatment.
Joining Hands in the Fight Against Cancer
Create a mural of handprints labeled with names, years of survivorship, and handwritten messages of encouragement, which can later be displayed in your hospital or treatment center.
Survivors Got Talent
Host a talent show where survivors, caregivers, and medical staff can register to perform. Video the event to give to attendees as a memento. Have “celebrity” judges offer positive critiques after each performance.
Hope Grows Here
Host a garden or floral-themed event. An ideal location would be your local botanical gardens or a garden on hospital grounds. Have survivors paint flowerpots, create floral arrangements, or construct a “tree of life” collage with survivors’ names and messages of hope on individual leaves. You can also plant trees or dedicate a garden to honor survivors. Give out flower seed packets as souvenirs.
Set sail on a grand adventure with this pirate-themed event. Have guests don their best swashbuckling garb and hand out treasure maps leading guests to food tables, information booths, craft tables, and hidden prizes.
Laughter Is the Best Medicine
Get guests giggling with clowns, a humorous speaker, a local improv troupe, laughter yoga, or anything else you can think of that will tickle their funny bones. Stock up on wacky masks, oversized sunglasses, wild wigs, and other novelty accessories to use as props for a photoshoot. Your guests can look back at their silly photos and remember the fun they had at your event.
Survivor is one of the most popular TV shows in the world. Why not host a Survivor-themed NCSD event? Decorate your venue to look like an island – tiki torches, coconuts, inflatable palm trees, a bonfire. You can even have guests form teams to compete in Survivor-style games. Scavenger hunts, relay races, obstacle courses, limbo, and hula hoop contests are all great ideas.
The Art of Healing
Hold your event at an art museum, host an art therapy workshop, or set up craft stations at your event space. You could even turn your venue into an art gallery and display artwork and photography created by survivors. For the full art gallery experience, sparkling apple or grape juice and hor d’oevres are a must.
Strike Out Cancer
Hold your event at a baseball field or attend a local ballgame where survivors are recognized. Request to honor survivors by walking the bases. Have kids in Little League uniforms serving popcorn, peanuts, and cotton candy. You could even invite a professional baseball player or team mascot to participate and take pictures with survivors. This theme can be easily modified to fit with various other sports.
Savor the Sweet Life
All you need for this theme is ice cream. You can host a homemade ice cream contest, set up a create-your-own sundae bar, or cater in treats from a local scoop shop. A barbershop quartet would provide the cherry on top for this old-fashioned ice cream social.
Music is the center of this event, and it doesn’t even have to be rock and roll. Include performances by local musicians, set up a karaoke stage, or host a workshop on music therapy. The options are endless. An Elvis impersonator would really shake things up!
Leis, palm trees, Hawaiian dancers, and tropical food create the backdrop for this fun celebration. Let guests show off their skills with limbo and hula-hoop contests. Grass skirts are optional.
Cancer Survivors Fiesta
¡Olé! Celebrate with Latin American flair: mariachis, flamenco dancers, conga lines, sombreros, maracas, piñatas, and festive food.
Hold your event at a local zoo or decorate your event space with a safari theme. Entertainment options can include African dances and a drum circle performance.
Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler
“Let the good times roll” with a Mardi Gras-themed event, complete with beads, masks, costumes, Cajun food, and the music of New Orleans.
Give Cancer the Boot
Celebrate country-western style with an old-fashioned hoedown. Invite local line dancers to perform, or hold a line dancing class for your guests. Grab your boots, your cowboy hat, your partner, and do-se-do.
Blast from the Past
Hold a 50s, 60s, or 70s themed event. Ideas include a sock hop, hula-hoop contests, poodle skirts, bell-bottoms, and music from the era.
The Greatest Life on Earth
Turn your event into a circus (or a carnival) with clowns, stilt walkers, jugglers, magicians, face painting, carnival games, cotton candy, and more. You might also include pie eating contests, pony rides, fortune-tellers, caricature artists, and a dunking booth where attendees can dunk treatment center staff.
Rise and Shine, Survivors
If you’re hosting an early morning event, a Survivors Day breakfast might just hit the spot.
Hats Off to Survivors
From classic top hats to casual caps, hats come in all shapes and sizes to reflect a variety of personal styles. Encourage attendees to don their favorite headgear. You could even hold a handmade hat contest and runway show so guests can show off their creative flair.
Have survivors participate in a butterfly or dove release, kite flying, hot air balloon rides, or just about anything that “soars.”
You’re a Fighter
Get ready to rumble! Show cancer survivors you’re in their corner with a boxing-themed event complete with boxing classes and championship belts to award survivors and other guests of honor.
Life’s a Party
Center your event on a birthday party theme. Celebrate with party hats, balloons, cupcakes, and traditional birthday party games like pin the tail on the donkey. Have survivors pin their years of survivorship with paper candles on a giant “birthday cake” display. Don’t forget the party favors! (Check out our Merchandise Catalog for ideas.)
The “Write” Way to Heal
Encourage survivors to get creative by holding a journaling workshop. Supply attendees with notebooks and writing utensils, provide writing prompts, and discuss the benefits of creative writing.
An NCSD event offers the perfect opportunity to educate your community on cancer prevention, treatment, and research, as well as the issues that confront cancer survivors. Consider providing information booths on early detection, treatment options, and support group and pain management resources. Offer free health screenings, makeovers, and massage therapy, art therapy, or pet therapy demonstrations. Distribute Welcome Brochures and Cancer Survivors Resource Guides, which can be ordered free of charge when you register your event online. Organize roundtable question-and-answer discussions facilitated by medical professionals or have an “ask the doctor” booth. Offer a quick and healthy cooking demonstration. Other workshops addressing survivorship issues led by members of an oncology staff could address recurrence, chemotherapy side effects, nutrition, caregiving, communicating with your doctor, alternative therapies, or getting insurance coverage. Invite local cancer-related organizations to set up booths where participants can learn about their services.
Cancer Survivors Fashion Show
Cancer survivors make wonderful models for clothing, wigs, turbans, and scarves. Have local fashion designers, clothing stores, or cancer boutiques provide outfits and accessories for survivors to show off.
Let the Games Begin
Hold your event at a local park, and host a field day complete with an egg toss, three-legged race, and other fun outdoor activities. Hand out prizes for the winners, and serve up a delicious picnic lunch. (Check out our Merchandise Catalog for prize ideas.) If possible, set up signs along a walking path in the park featuring survivorship facts and words of encouragement for guests to reflect on.
Have dogs from a local shelter or therapy dogs (and their handlers) attend your event to brighten everyone’s day. A knowledgeable guest speaker can discuss the benefits of animal-assisted therapy.
Luck of the Survivor
Throw a lively Irish-inspired celebration honoring cancer survivors. Dress up your event space with four-leaf-clover decorations, and treat guests to Irish music, performances by traditional Irish dancers, and, of course, games and prizes.
Yellow Brick Road to Survival
Survivors, caregivers, and treatment staff – oh my! Delight guests with a Wizard of Oz–themed Survivors Day event complete with a “yellow brick road” for guests to follow into the event space. To correlate with Dorothy’s journey through OZ, consider allowing cancer survivors from your community to share the lessons they’ve learned along their cancer journeys.
Superheroes of Hope
Give your attendees an opportunity to celebrate the heroes in their lives with a superhero-themed NCSD event. Special appearances by Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, etc. take your celebration to the next level.
No matter what theme you choose, be sure to take lots of photos during your event. Candid shots really capture the spirit of NCSD. You can also set up a backdrop and baskets of props to use for fun, posed photo shoots. Print out a stack of our fill-in-the-blank signs, and photograph guests holding up their words of encouragement. Then be sure to share your photos with us via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by tagging us and using the tag #NCSD2023 or #CelebrateLife.