02/11/05 — Cancer Society holds Realy for Life kickoff

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Cancer Society holds Realy for Life kickoff

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 11, 2005 2:22 PM

Olivia Whaley had been a healthy person her entire life.

But one day all that changed when her surgeon quietly uttered three little words -- "It is cancer."

Mrs. Whaley described her experience with breast cancer at the kickoff celebration for the American Cancer Society's 2005 Relay for Life. The event was held Thursday at Wayne Memorial Hospital. Mrs. Whaley is this year's honorary chairman of the event.

She said as she was dressing to go to a classmate's retirement last June, she noticed that one of her breasts was swollen. Over the next few days, the swelling increased and she decided that something was just right. So she called the surgical clinic and was told she would have to have a mammogram and an ultrasound.

"God was working because the radiologists read my report that very day and got it right over to the surgeon in time for my afternoon appointment," she said. "The surgeon told me that the radiologist suspected cancer, but the ultrasound and mammogram did not show it."

After having a biopsy performed, Mrs. Whaley was told it was indeed cancer. Since the disease didn't run in her family, she said, she had never thought much about the chances of contracting it.

She began chemotherapy in July. Her daughter, Amanda, had just started working at Southeastern Medical Oncology Center and gave her the treatments.

After having a reaction to one of the treatments, Mrs. Whaley had a double mastectomy performed Dec. 15.

"I chose to have the good breast removed as well as the affected breast," she said. "I did not want to relive this down the road with the other breast."

During the tests, treatments and surgery, Mrs. Whaley continued to work as a teacher.

"Staying busy at school was good therapy for me," she said. "It helped take my mind off the cancer."

Last month, Mrs. Whaley started radiation treatments. After six of the required 33 treatments, she had to undergo chemotherapy again.

"I have been extremely blessed by such an unfortunate incident," she said. "The rewards have been bountiful. People have come out of the woodwork to support me. There have been flowers, cards, gifts, treats, visits, new acquaintances and meals sent my way."

Mrs. Whaley said that from the first day she found out she had cancer that she realized she had to deal with it regardless of what the consequences would be. "I had two choices," she said. "To deal with it in a positive manner or to go in depression and have a pity party. I chose a survivor positive attitude.

"God gave me strength and a peace in the very beginning. I guess it was the peace that passes understanding. I have never cried over this."

Mrs. Whaley said her healing process has included going to cancer prevention walks, carrying her prayer list with her. At the beginning of her cancer, she made a chart, entitled it "Olivia's Cure For Cancer" and hung it in her kitchen. It includes notes on exercise, diet, water, sunlight, temperance, air, rest, stress relief, and an attitude of gratitude.

"You never know when your life could become like mine," she said to those attending the kickoff. "You wake up one morning and your life has suddenly taken a tail spin."

Lynette Overman, the coordinator for the Cancer Society's 'Look Good, Feel Better' program, also spoke about her experience with breast cancer .

"It was a very emotional time for me," Mrs. Overman said. "I felt alone and confused a lot. I didn't feel like me. All of a sudden, I was a cancer victim."

But she said she decided she was not going to remain a victim. She had one of her breasts removed and reconstructive surgery done to replace it with a muscle from her stomach. The surgeon had to put a piece of mesh over her stomach to help it heal. For a long time, she couldn't bend over. Her mother had to tie her shoes for her during that time. "One day I cried because I wanted to tie my own shoes," she said.

More than five years later, Mrs. Overman said, she has come to understand that the disease is something she simply has to deal with.

"Life is sometimes scary and unfair," she said. "But you have two choices. You can get on with the living or get on with the dying. Those who choose to live, live every moment to the fullest, no matter how little time they have left. Those who choose to die, died the minute they made that choice, no matter how much time they had left."

During the event, Terry Butler, one of event's co-chairmen, announced that this year's goal is $500,000. Last year's Relay for Life raised $509,968 with more than 400 businesses serving as sponsors. She said the society hopes to get 500 sponsors this year and to sell 6,000 luminaries in honor of people who either have cancer or have suffered from it.

The event will be held May 13-14 at Wayne Community College. The annual survivors banquet will be held May 12 at First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

Outback Steakhouse donated the chicken and beef dinner for the kickoff banquet.

For more information about the Relay for Life, people can log onto the website at www.wayneacs.org.