Relay For Life: The Battle Rages On

Story by Tabatha Duvall

I was five years old the first time I heard the word “cancer.” I didn’t understand what it was but I knew it was something scary, and I eventually learned this “cancer”, whatever it was, would change my short life forever.

Not long before I started kindergarten, my grandmother, Lucy Duvall, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I don’t remember much about the time she battled the disease, but some details I’ll never forget.

I remember the light teal and pink terry cloth turbans she’d wear to hide the effects of chemotherapy. I remember her traveling to and staying in Little Rock to see her doctor, and she was there the night my brother was born. I also remember August 31, 1993.

My parents came and picked me up early from school. When I got in the car I knew something was wrong. Both had been crying, and they let me know that MawMaw had lost her fight. I didn’t really understand what cancer was, but I knew it took her from me and I hated it.

Within two years, my cousin Tim’s wife, Linda, was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. Their daughter, Alisha, and I are very close friends, and I witnessed another battle.

This time I began to understand what it was. It was a horrible disease, a disease that didn’t care who or when it attacked. It didn’t care that MawMaw had 11 children and over 20 grandchildren to love. It didn’t care that Linda had a daughter in the first grade she needed to be there for.

Over time, I had multiple aunts diagnosed with breast cancer, an uncle diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a grandfather diagnosed with lung and pancreatic cancer. I watched a classmate lose his little brother, friends lose parents, my church lose members that were like family, and 13 years after her diagnosis I witnessed Linda lose a battle she had fought with every bit of strength she had.

After multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and four bone marrow transplants, her body just could not take anymore.

Nearly 20 years after the first time I heard that devastating word, now knowing more about cancer, some of the signs to look for, and how to help prevent it, I still hate it.

I wanted to get involved and find a way to prevent having to tell children that their grandparent or parent has cancer. I don’t want another mother to have to miss their daughter falling in love and raising a beautiful daughter of their own like Linda has.

I don’t want another father to not be able to walk his daughter down the aisle. I don’t want another school to have to leave an empty chair at their graduation ceremony in memory.

The year following Linda’s death, her niece Kacie started “Team LINDA: Hope Lives On” in her memory for the local Relay For Life – the most recognizable fundraiser for the American Cancer Society (ACS.) I didn’t know a lot about it but joined anyway. After learning about the impact that ACS has on the search to find a cure and the help it provides to the fighters and survivors, I decided it was time to really get involved. This would be my fight against cancer.

According to ACS resources, in the state of Arkansas 44 people will be told today “You have cancer,” but because of the American Cancer Society, 11 of them will become better equipped to fight back, 37 cancer patients will receive transportation to their treatments, and $2,800 worth of research will be conducted to help find new treatments and preventions.

The American Cancer Society provides multiple resources for cancer patients to get well, stay well, find cures, and fight back. A 24/7 hotline at 1-800-ACS-2345 provides support and answers questions for patients and caregivers. In 2011 they answered 3,900 phone calls from Arkansas alone. Cancer.org also recorded over 88,000 hits from Arkansas in 2011, and is a great resource for those looking to find out about their diagnosis, how to keep themselves healthy through chemo, or a support system in their time of need.

In Russellville, a program called “Look Good, Feel Better” helps female patients do just that. At The Pink Ribbon Boutique in Russellville, owned by Carolyn Gray, local cosmetologist Susann Crowell teaches patients how to style their wigs or new shorter cuts and cover the effects of cancer treatments with makeup.

It’s also a time of fellowship for patients who may not know anyone else who is going through the same treatment and a time to learn how to cope with the physical side effects of treatment. The program is held the second Monday of every other month from 1 to 3 p.m. The next event will be Monday, May 14.

There are several Hope Lodges in the region that house cancer patients free of charge when they have to travel for treatment. The nearest are in Nashville, Houston, New Orleans, Birmingham, and Memphis.

While my Aunt Linda was in Houston for her final transplant, her husband and daughter were spending close to $1,200 a month at an RV park, but were later allowed to use Hope Lodging. Also for traveling patients, The Road to Recovery provides assistance with transportation such as gas bill payment.

Since the American Cancer Society was founded in 1944, it has risen over $4 billion, and a large portion goes to fund research. 46 doctors funded by ACS have won the Nobel Prize. Strides in cures and treatments can be made by the choice to get involved through events such as The Relay For Life.

The Relay For Life is an event all about celebrating the steps taken to win this fight. The 2012 Relay For Life of Pope and Yell Counties will be held May 11-12, at Cyclone Stadium and the 24-hour event will be held from 5 p.m. Friday through 5 p.m. Saturday.

Prior to the Relay each team that signs up will be able to fundraise their own way, whether it’s selling t-shirts or cupcakes, having a garage sale or car wash, or as the local Fit Girlz do, having a Zumba-thon. At the Relay, teams will set up their campsite and will be able to do more fundraising there.

There will also be ceremonies to honor the survivors and to remember those gone. As with all good celebrations there will be games and music all night, and at the stroke of midnight the annual Mr. Relay pageant will be held (Team LINDA: Hope Lives On is the reigning champ.) For more information about the Relay for Life of Pope and Yell Counties or to get involved join/start a team or joining the committee, visit www.relayforlife.org/pope. It’s only ten dollars to join a team, and free to start a team, but it is worth so much more. Knowing we are taking steps to a world where no one else has to learn the word “cancer” is priceless.

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