Saturday, April 12, 2008

Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back

1996 was in many ways a bad year for my family. I separated from my first wife. My brother lost a job he'd had for the better part of a decade, and he and his family ended up moving in with my parents for several years. My mom had her first bout with breast cancer.

This was not my family's only encounter with cancer that year. Mom's brother-in-law Buddy had been battling, I believe, brain cancer for nearly two years. Mom had a simple lumpectomy this time around; I know she had follow up treatment, but I'm not sure if it was radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination. The bottom line is that she survived, but Uncle Buddy didn't. He passed away in mid-December. And we faced even more before he died.

Mom's other brother-in-law Carlyle fell at work right around Thanksgiving, and he didn't bounce back like we all expected him to. He went to the doctor to get checked and found out he had liver cancer. A very aggressive, pervasive form of liver cancer. He decide not to postpone the inevitable and opted for no treatment except pain management. He passed away right after Christmas.

Heavy, heavy times indeed for the White family.

Over the next three years, we had many more health concerns for my mom. She was diagnosed with lupus, or at least some form of auto-immune disease that attacks the entire body, starting with the central nervous system and working out from there. We're not totally sure if it is actually lupus, or if there's a more refined diagnosis these days; we just know it's played merry hob with Mom's health for a dozen years. For simplicity's sake, we call it lupus.

Summer, 1999. Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, again. There was no question but that she would have a radical mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. There was considerable question about what her follow up care would entail. Lupus greatly complicated things; her body couldn't tolerate radiation treatments. Fortunately, there were chemotherapies specifically for breast cancer that had much more manageable side effects than radiation; Mom's oncologist chose tamoxifen for her. It worked, and Mom has been cancer-free for almost nine years now.

Fall, 2002. I was dating Lisa, who is now my wife. Her mom Meki was diagnosed with cancer (she prefers that the type not be disclosed publicly). It required very aggressive treatment. Meki wore an infusion pump for chemo for several weeks, and she had twice weekly radiation treatments to shrink the tumor. Finally, she had surgery in January 2003 to completely remove the tumor, followed by more chemo. Our happy ending is that the cancer was caught completely, and Meki is now five years free of cancer.

Even before Meki's diagnosis, Lisa was involved with Relay For Life. A co-worker's mother had cancer, and Lisa's co-worker asked her and another fellow to join her at Relay. They did, and it's blossomed from there.

I started Relaying as a way to spend more time with Lisa. After all, we lived 200 miles apart then, so any reason to see her was great. I didn't come close to matching her commitment to and passion for Relay For Life. To be honest, I still don't, but I have found more and more reasons to deepen my involvement. I'm in my second year as the Online Chair for the Greensboro Relay for Life, which make me part of the Committee in charge of the event. I find added enjoyment in Relay each year, as well as hope and meaning.

For 2008, the slogan for Relay for Life is Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back. Celebrate the survivors, share their joy in living. Remember those who did not survive, shed a tear in the sorrow of their absence, smile at the memory of their lives. Fight Back against cancer, spit in its eye and shout defiance.

Cancer is no respecter of person or station. Anyone can be stricken. Join us, give what you are willing to of your money and your time. You may help save a stranger. A random acquaintance. A friend. A family member. Yourself.

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