LAKELAND - Hope will be in the air Sunday, visibly and audibly, at Lakeland Regional Cancer Center.

The center's annual National Cancer Survivors Day will feature Polk County's 2007 cancer Nurse of Hope winners, both of whom work at LRCC; release of hundreds of butterflies in a butterfly garden donated by the Lakeland Garden Club; and a presentation by actress Barbara Bates Smith of her own breast-cancer experience.

At the heart of the free afternoon event, as it was at Watson Clinic's May 20 cancer-survivors day, will be recognition of cancer survivors, their families, their friends, the medical professionals who treat them and volunteers who try to make the experience easier.

"I've had the same oncology patients for 20 years," said Linda Werry, a licensed practical nurse. "You become part of their family."

Werry, who practices with Dr. G. Byron Hodge, is one of this year's nurses of hope. The other is Kathy Gallagher Sullivan, a registered nurse, who has been in the oncology field since joining Lakeland Regional Medical Center's cancer floor in 1985.

"Cancer patients are special," Sullivan said. "You see them repeatedly. They are not your run-of-the-mill patients."

In dealing with cancer patients, both nurses said, calls that come into their offices frequently involve life-threatening complications and symptoms that need immediate attention.

"They need extra care and nurturing," said Werry, who moved to Orlando as a child in 1955 and has lived there 52 years.

The American Cancer Society and the Oncology Nursing Society presented their awards at the society's May 16 meeting.

Werry and Sullivan both went into nursing because they wanted to take care of patients, but neither knew at the start they would end up in oncology.

Sullivan, 60, had worked on medical-surgical floors at other hospitals and wasn't sure she was ready for the deeply emotional field of oncology. She had taken care of her former mother-in-law, who died of breast cancer, before she became a nurse.

Once a neighbor persuaded her to apply to LRMC's oncology unit, however, she said she soon became committed to those patients.

"With cancer patients, who you see weekly if not more, you do form a bond," said Sullivan, who graduated in 1965 from Santa Fe High School in Lakeland and in 1983 from Valencia Community College in Orlando.

She waited to attend nursing school there until her youngest son entered school.

Werry, 62, found herself working with cancer patients much of the time when she became Hodge's nurse. They worked together in Orlando for 17 years. When he joined LRCC in 2004, she began commuting here.

It was in her senior year of high school, after serious illness, that she resolved to be a nurse. As school started, she had mononucleosis and developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, which left her paralyzed for months. Relearning to walk and resuming her life, she said, she became a licensed practical nurse in large part because of her respect for nurses who took care of her and Dr. Dean Steward, now retired, who diagnosed her.

From that experience, and relatives who have had cancer, she learned hope and determination, which she and Sullivan share with patients.

"I wish more nurses would give oncology nursing a try," Sullivan said. "It can be very rewarding. We get as much out of it as the patients."

Robin Williams Adams can be reached at robin.adams@directgates.com or 863-802-7558.