05/23/10 — Survivors offer a glimpse of what's possible

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Survivors offer a glimpse of what's possible

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 23, 2010 1:50 AM

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Tonya Blount, center, waits for the start of the Survivor's Lap Friday at the Wayne County Relay for Life.

Sue Hill doesn't have to wonder about Relay for Life teammate Jennifer Mills' battle with breast cancer.

She is a survivor, too.

"She's been through hell and back," Mrs. Hill said.

"That's right," Mrs. Mills agreed. And at that, the two friends shared a hug.

The Grantham resident was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and began participating in Relay for Life the following year. Her road became even more difficult when she lost her job while taking treatments.

"I was out for one day over six months, and when you're out for one day over, you lose your job," Mrs. Mills said.

Being ill took a toll on her loved ones, too, but it was having the support of friends like Mrs. Hill that helped Mrs. Mills make it through the hard times.

"They went through it with me. When you've got somebody sick, you're sick too, just about. All my children and my husband were wonderful, my family and friends, I couldn't have done it without them," she said.

With her cancer now in remission, she is re-employed at her previous workplace and surrounded by the love of her three children and seven grandchildren.

But she was at Relay this year not just to mark her own victory in her breast cancer battle, but to be there for those who are just beginning or continuing their fights.

After all, she said, being around someone who understands and who has experienced the same highs and lows can be invaluable.

Even now, she is still blown away by the support Wayne County Relay for Life offers to those whose lives have been touched by the disease, and every year, she does her part to help.

"It's just amazing. I'm almost speechless. It's just wonderful how everybody comes together," Mrs. Mills said.

Teresa Rose remembers to the day when she first heard the news that she would be facing uterine cancer -- 10 years, one month and five days.

"That's a day I'll never forget," she said.

Her fight to survive the disease took its toll. It was "hard, very hard, like anybody will tell you."

But with help from her friends, and, her faith, she said she won her battle. And every year when the purple ribbons come out and survivors pack the track at the Wayne County Relay for Life, Mrs. Rose is there celebrating her victory, and helping to raise money for others still enduring the fear and pain she remembers all too well.

"I wouldn't be nowhere else. There's a lot of people out there that have this that have nobody, so this is to help the people that have nobody," she said.

For Virginia Bunn, being a part of the Survivors' Lap that opens each Relay for Life event is about more than just celebrating victories against cancer. It is about realizing that no one is really in his or her fight alone.

"Hope. Love. Everybody knows that God's here with us, we're not alone," she said.

And although the event raises money for cancer research, the word "cancer" is not how she would define Relay for Life.

"It's not the word 'cancer'. It's 'I can beat this, and yes sir, God, thank you,'" Mrs. Bunn said.

LaNelle Smith became involved with Relay for Life about five years ago, but she has been a cancer survivor for nearly four decades.

If not for a close friend pushing her to go to a doctor for a second opinion all those years ago, her story might have ended very differently.

"If I had waited a year, I wouldn't be here," she said. "People need to know you can't always do the way your doctor wants you to. You've got to take it in your own hands."

Seeing so many people working to fund cancer research, and getting to walk with other survivors, made Ms. Smith feel good. But at the same time, her mind is still focused on winning the war.

"I'm ready for them to find a cure," Ms. Smith said.

For Susan Lewis, who was diagnosed with bone cancer two years ago, seeing thousands of people out supporting cancer research meant a great deal. But even now, it's not finding a cure for herself that she is most concerned about. The youngest victims are the ones who stand to lose the most, she said.

"I just met a little boy last night, he's 5 years old. He's had cancer since he was 6 weeks old. I look at these kids, and that makes it even more greater, because I have lived my life a long time, and they're just babies," Mrs. Lewis said.

Mrs. Lewis is not only a survivor, she is still fighting the disease. Her family and friends have gathered around her, and several of her closest loved ones came out to Relay for Life to show their support.

"Well, thank God, I have good days and bad days, but I just put it in the hand of God. I put all my trust in God, you know, and my family's been so supportive, and that helps a lot right now," she said.

Despite the hard fight, she is not giving up, and stays focused on being positive. Her attitude toward the diagnosis and the long battle against the disease surprised even her family.

She is determined to be back at Relay for Life next year, still a survivor.

"My husband, he thought I was going to take it really hard and all, and at first I had my little crying days. Some days you get up and you're feeling sorry for yourself, but other than that ... I put trust in God, that's the main thing," Mrs. Lewis said. "As long as I've got God on my side, I can conquer it."