From the day I was born, I have been witness to the effects that cancer has on the people I love. My grandmother was diagnosed with bone cancer when she was pregnant with my uncle back in the late 1950s. Before he was born, she had one of her legs amputated just above the knee. This is the only way I have ever known her. When I was younger, she was very mobile and was a pro with her crutches, but as she has aged, she is now confined to an electric wheelchair to get around.
When I was in my early teens, my dad’s cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer. I watched as this strong, energetic and vibrant woman endured treatment after treatment and finally succumbed to the disease. Bev was like another grandmother to me and without her, there is always something missing at our family gatherings.
As I have gotten older, cancer has only touched my immediate family in a very minor way, but it has touched several very close friends much more significantly. Growing up, I had a very strong connection with a friend who was about 10 years older than I was. I joined a youth organization when I was 11 and Marcie was just finishing her time with the organization. She took me under her wing and helped to mentor me and teach me the ropes. We became good friends and when she met the man who would become her husband, I immediately adored him. Phil was one of those people you never forget. He was genuine and kind, jovial and passionate. Phil was one of the most incredible men I’ve ever met.
In 2007, Phil noticed a strange lump in his calf and went to the doctor to have it checked out. He was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma and started treatment. When my husband and I got engaged in 2009, we couldn’t think of anyone we would rather have officiate our wedding than Phil. On May 1st, 2010, Phil performed our wedding ceremony while fighting a nagging cough that was being caused by the tumors in his lungs.
Phil fought with everything he had, losing most of one of his lungs, a leg and precious time with his son, Nathan. On January 5th, 2011, Marcie was kind enough to let me know that I should visit right away because Phil was going downhill fast. As I pulled up to their house that evening after work, I prepared myself for what I knew was about to happen. When I went in the room to see Phil, he was in and out of sleep and you could tell that he was medicated for pain. We talked for a while and as I was getting ready to leave, Phil held up his hand in the sign “I love you” and I returned the sign. This was the last time I saw Phil. Late that night, he lost consciousness and he passed away the following day.
After Phil passed away, Relay took on a whole new meaning for me. I had participated in Relay for Life in the past, but never took a very active role in the event and joined a team when I knew someone who had one. Last year, I formed Phil’s Phighters in memory of Phil’s courageous battle and this year, I joined the Planning Committee for Relay for Life of Douglas County.
Just a couple of months ago, my involvement in Relay was confirmed once again. A good friend and coworker of mine had been bounced from doctor to doctor for two years to try to determine the source of severe pain throughout her body. The doctors that she visited tested her for everything from Lupus to MS to Celiac Disease but could never pinpoint an accurate diagnosis. In March, she was given clearance to set an appointment with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and she travelled there with her family on March 12th.
Kristi’s appointment was March 13th and it began with painful biopsies and a blood draw. After the blood draw, she was told to go back to the hotel with her family and rest. The doctors planned for her to be there for the better part of a week and they would let her know when they got results from the tests. Kristi got a phone call just about an hour after she got back to the hotel. The doctors wanted her to come back to Mayo immediately. When she arrived back at the clinic, she was told that she has leukemia and they recommended that she begin chemo treatments immediately at Mayo. Kristi asked to be sent back to KU Medical Center for treatment so that she could be close to her family. Right now, Kristi has undergone chemo and surgery and is still very much fighting for her future. Kristi has so much to live for – a 2-year old daughter, Kaydence, a loving family and supportive friends.
This year, I Relay in memory of Phil and in honor of Kristi. Saving lives from cancer starts with one team, one participant and one dollar at a time. I am doing my part to make sure that cancer never steals another year of anyone’s life.