Since becoming the health reporter about two years ago, I realize more than ever just HOW MANY lives cancer touches.
Sure, I knew the devastating affects of the disease, but the numbers can be hard to grasp. I mean who can really wrap their head around the fact that 1.4 million people in the United States were diagnosed with cancer in 2009, and that 13,000 of those were in Kansas?
These numbers really hit home during a Relay For Life team captain meeting that I attended last year. There were about 70 people sitting in the auditorium at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The organizers ran through what they planned for the luminaria ceremony. They asked us to stand if we ... • were a cancer survivor.
• lost a spouse to cancer or our spouse was a survivor.
• lost a child to cancer or our child was battling cancer.
• lost a parent to cancer or our parent was battling cancer.
• lost a grandparent to cancer or our grandparent was battling cancer.
• lost a family member to cancer or our family member was battling cancer.
• lost a friend to cancer or our friend was battling cancer.
By the end of the ceremony, everyone was standing. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. I will never forget it.
I stood in recognition of my grandfather, Elvin Britt, who died at age 86 from lymphoma. He worked hard all of his life as a Kansas wheat-and-cattle farmer. He had worked in the wheatfields on 100-degree days with no air conditioning in his 70s and 80s. But, it would be cancer that took the life of my last living grandparent.
Every year, I decorate a luminaria in memory of him.
I also decorate one in memory of Susan Mozykowski.
There are no words to describe how much Susan touched my life in such a short period of time. She allowed me and photographer Nick Krug to document her journey with brain cancer. Despite the cancer's toll on her body and mind, she remained optimistic and positive — even while on hospice. She was looking forward to her new life with God.
Those two luminarias are placed along the track along with thousands of others. There’s nothing like seeing the luminarias light up the track at night.
My other favorite part of Relay is the survivor’s lap. Each year, I recognize more and more people because they’ve shared their stories with me. There’s nothing like cheering and clapping for them as they walk by. It’s a true celebration.
My participation in Relay began about five years ago, when a friend, Tina Yates, asked me to join her team.
Since then, I have become more involved.
This year, I am co-captain of the “We Are The World Company” team with Christine Metz. It is a lot of work — recruiting members, fundraising, filling out paperwork, setting up our site, etc. But, it’s also a lot of fun. We look forward to doing the Electric Slide in the late hours of the night at Relay, and sharing laughs with our co-workers.
We also believe in the cause.
The money not only goes toward programs that help those fighting cancer, it goes toward research. Hopefully, my husband, parents, sister, brother and nephews will never face what Susan and my grandfather did.
This year, 562,340 Americans are expected to die of cancer. That’s more than 1,500 people a day. Cancer accounts for nearly one in four deaths, and it’s the second most common cause of death.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Larry Kwak — one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people In the world. Kwak, a Lawrence native, is researching cancer vaccines. Someday, he hopes the research leads to a cure for cancer.
Yes, there IS hope.