My cancer survival story: ‘Relay for Life was and is a life saver’
EDITOR’S NOTE: As we count down the days to the 15th annual Incline Village Relay for Life, the Bonanza is featuring several stories from locals who survived the disease and are using it as a reason to give back to the community.
More than 2.5 million people — over half a million of them survivors — participate in Relay for Life events each year at more than 5,200 sites across the United States and in 21 other countries.
This year, the Incline Village Relay for Life celebrates 15 years with 15 hours of walking the track to raise money to fight cancer. Every year, many of our volunteers are cancer survivors themselves, and they spend many hours working to put on this event in order to raise more awareness and money for the fight against cancer.
Below are stories from just three of our locals and survivors who help with the Relay event in Incline.
Ruth Becker, Survivor Chair:
Three years ago, I was asked by Ramona Cruz, then chair of the Incline Village Relay, to serve on the committee. This is my second year as Survivor chairperson and my 14th year attending the Relay. My involvement was inspired by my employers, who are both cancer survivors. Also, I chose to support the Relay in memory of my Father, who passed away from prostate cancer in 2001.
I am also a survivor. In 1999 I had a mole on my arm that changed in size, color and texture. I didn’t give it much thought. I had gone to my primary physician for my annual checkup. He caught sight of the mole and immediately said it had to be checked. He referred me to a dermatologist who specialized in skin cancers. This doctor performed a Mohs procedure and was able to remove the mole and surrounding tissue. A subsequent biopsy showed that it was a malignant melanoma.
In my teens I would use a mixture of baby oil and iodine on my skin for a better tan. Sunscreen was not in my vocabulary. What I didn’t know was that mixture offered zero protection from harmful UV rays. It was all about looking good. I now have an annual total-body check to look for additional pre-cancerous spots. In addition, I limit my sun exposure and always use sunscreen. By participating in the Relay for Life, I have the opportunity to increase cancer awareness. And it’s an opportunity to give something back to the community.
Lorri Waldman, Advocacy Chair:
I starting attending Relay for Life after I lost my husband, Sam to cancer in 2000. I had also lost my mother, brother in law and too many friends to the disease. I found I had a squamous cell carcinoma after going to a couple of doctors. The first told me it was just dry skin. But since it was not healing, I went to another doctor who took a biopsy and gave me the correct diagnosis.
I was operated on to remove it and was fortunate not to need any further treatment. A year or so later, I found another similar scaly patch. I had that one removed as well and have been cancer free for about 10 years.
I have been Advocacy Chairperson for about 4 years. Cancer advocacy is about people working together to change laws and policies to fight cancer and benefit cancer patients, survivors, and their families. Through advocacy we can increase access to quality health care, improve the lives of cancer patients, and raise the level of funding for cancer research. It’s my way to help promote our Relay for Life event.
Mary Hubbard, Team Leader:
We had just returned from a wonderful week’s vacation fishing in Idaho when we heard the anxious messages left on our answering machine. It was 2002, and that was the beginning of my cancer merry-go-round. I found out I had breast cancer, for which I underwent a lumpectomy and 6 weeks of radiation.
Then in late 2006, a normal check of my carotids gave a warning to have a nodule in my neck checked out. I was told “Not to worry” – 95 percent of these nodules are benign. And even if it was cancer, thyroid cancer was the best to have – it was slow growing and treatable. Well, unfortunately, mine was not benign. I had a full thyroidectomy in 2007, a try at treatment, and another surgery in 2008, during which the doctor accidently severed the nerve to my vocal cord. After a year of having practically no voice, a new doctor sent me to a specialist that placed an implant in my neck that pushed the vocal cord over to interact with the other, and Voila, I had a voice again.
By 2011, they had found a couple more nodules in my neck, one which was growing dangerously close to the esophagus. My case went before two tumor boards, and they couldn’t figure out what to do. A good friend highly recommended the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. The first thing my doctor there said to me was “You have a life-threatening disease, and you need to do something about it.” He operated the next month, and six weeks of radiation followed. At last my neck is cancer free!
Relay for Life was and is a life saver for me. It is the only way that I can help myself; everything else is in someone else’s hands. I’ve lost my mother, a stepmother, and many wonderful friends to cancer. Walking the candlelit track late at night is a solemn task, a way to honor and remember them. I am so grateful that my golf club has joined me in the fight for cancer.
This is the second year we have formed a team and are doing whatever we can. For all of us, helping to raise money may one day save our children or grandchildren. I am proud to wear that purple tee shirt as a 12-year survivor from breast cancer and I’m looking forward to surviving the thyroid cancer as well.