Sharing my story is not something I have done much over the past 10 years, as it is still something very personal to me. I have found though that that more I share it, the more I am able to help others. What I am sharing is a snapshot of me, my story and my journey, which has led me to my current volunteer role of Event Chair for the Relay For Life of Ripley County, Indiana.
I had been a team captain / team member in the Relay For Life of Virginia Beach for the better part of 15 years. When I moved back to Indiana it would be 5 years before I got re-involved in this wonderful event.
When I began my journey with Relay For Life all of those years ago I never thought that I would be speaking to anyone about the Relay as a cancer survivor. Everything in my life, my entire world, changed 10 years ago.
On August 4, 2003 at the age of 31 I was diagnosed with stage I endometrial cancer. At the time I was a military wife whose husband was half a world away, the mother of an 11 year old and a 9 year old and was over 700 miles away from my nearest family.
The two weeks following August 4 is hard for me to remember clearly. I moved methodically through a fog. During those days I had countless doctor appointments, I was scanned on every inch of my body to see if the cancer had spread and it seemed like I had needle marks on every inch of my hands and arms from so many tests being run.
During that time I had to absorb so much information and it was so frightening. I quickly learned about survival statistics, treatment plans and surgery options, which truly weren’t options. As you can imagine, those were some very dark days.
I have always been a very strong, independent person but it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I was not going to be able to get through this on my own. So I took a deep breath, I gathered my family around me and told them about the plan to make me better. I held on tightly to my husband, explained the best I could to my children and I told co-workers and staff, asking for their support. The single most important decision that I made was my decision to live a life wrapped in grace, dignity and happiness in spite of the disease within me. I also chose to trust that God had a purpose for this and I would leave it in His hands.
Little did I know that 7 years later, after having been cancer free for over 5 years, I would again hear the words, “you have cancer”, but this time it was thyroid cancer.
In both instances, I never fell within the typical risk factors and it made me realize that cancer can truly happen to anyone at any time.
Laughter and love have carried my family through this together and I have been encouraged by my medical team to live my life as though this cancer is an inconvenience that just needs to be dealt with rather than a death sentence. Life hasn’t stopped and it certainly is sweeter.
What I have found along the way is that the American Cancer Society is all around me, popping up in the most unexpected places, helping to support me through these trying times. I found a wealth of information on the American Cancer Society web site about the latest research and treatment options. I found a community of survivors out there, brought together in news groups and chat rooms, supported by the ACS.
I found that if I call the ACS, any time, any day, someone will pick up the phone and ask,“How can I help you? – Literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! It is because of that positive experience that I chose to play a larger role in Relay.
As I have moved through my journey, I have thought about the Relay For Life a lot. I have always loved the Relay and being a part of it. I have had moments when I thought never again – I’ll never be able to make it through another Relay, as the emotions are too deep and the feelings too painful.
I realize that I now get it, finally, after all of these years – I really understand what the Relay For Life is all about. The process and structure of the Relay mimics real life in the world of a cancer survivor and care giver. We describe the Relay as a team event – cancer is a team event. Once diagnosed with cancer you soon realize that you are surrounded by a team of health care providers, care givers, family, friends and fellow survivors. No cancer patient makes the journey alone. It takes a team
to get it done.
The relay is an overnight celebration of hope, progress and answers…because cancer never sleeps. When you commit to work a Relay through the night and you “Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back,” you are living the life of a cancer survivor. We never let our guard down and we can’t stop – we are engaging the enemy in a fight for our lives…for the rest of our lives. In that one night, you are sharing in our reality.
The Relay is conducted in honor of and is dedicated to the millions of Americans who have survived cancer. It is a privilege to Relay and stand side by side and in honor and support of these courageous people. Even as a cancer survivor myself I am humbled in the presence of all the other survivors. By participating in Relay you represent the future; you give life and a voice to the cure that is on the horizon.
The arms of the American Cancer Society are far reaching and get to the core of cancer with research and helping patients to feel better. The treatments that I have received were formulated and selected based in part on the results of American Cancer Society funded research studies.
As for me and my story, I am a cancer warrior and I continue fighting! I had major surgery at 31 to completely remove my reproductive system and 7 years later I had surgery to remove my thyroid gland and over 60 lymph nodes. I have endured intraoperative radiation therapy, systemic radiation therapy and multiple radioactive iodine treatments.
Cancer has changed me. It has made me look within. It has made me dig deep into my soul. It has inspired me to reach out to others. Cancer realigned my priorities. I feel courageous and strong. I feel victorious. I feel like a survivor.
In 2012 I was asked to be the event chair of the Relay For Life of Ripley County, a position that I continue to hold today. I made a decision to do everything possible to help find a cure for cancer. In 2013 Ripley County’s Relay was honored with a top 10 award for highest proceeds raised per capita in the NATION! This is a huge feat for a county of 28,600 people!
I still have a hard time sharing my story without a few tears appearing, but they are now tears of joy because today, everyday, is a GREAT day to be alive!
Thank you so much for allowing me to share my story and tell you what the American Cancer Society and the Relay For Life means to me and to millions just like me. The Relay For Life touches the lives of cancer survivors and caregivers every day.
I would be amiss if I didn’t say thank you to Bret for bringing joy to my life throughout all of my struggles in life, through their music and through Bret’s positive outlook on life and the health problems he has endured. We all have struggles in life, but it is how we respond to them that makes all the difference!
My life has been blessed by Bret for the past 25 years (I was 16 when I first saw Poison at Indiana State University) and have to say that he only continues to get better!
Do you have a story of giving back, supporting charities, overcoming obstacles, a story of strength, inspiration through music to battle through setbacks or illness? We’d like to hear and share your story and photos.
Simply visit TeamBretMichaels.com, read other great stories and submit your own!
Also if you have the means and would like to, please consider donating to the Bret Michaels Life Rocks Foundation by visiting LifeRocksFoundation.org to show support in helping others.
Thank you for your continued support!