That’s why the Relay for Life has been a part of our community for 15 years now. It’s the signature fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. (NOTE: Pictures from the event are posted on this website.)
“Why do we participate in the Relay movement? Because we find hope,” said event lead Ashley Thompson.
“Our hope is not just for us here tonight. It is for everyone across the planet. We hope for a cancer-free world. We may not know how long this will take, but we have seen the advances the American Cancer Society helps bring in medicine and treatment protocols every day. We see the lives that are being saved, and we join together in knowing that there is no finish line until cures are found.”
The Relay for Life fundraising starts in September and continues year-round until the 12-hour event in July. This year the local event of 20 teams raised more than $72,000.
A 23-year survivor
Jean Frederick, 75, of Norwalk, understands what Thompson meant. She was diagnosed with breast cancer Dec. 28, 1992.
The cancer caught her somewhat by surprise.
“I took off work between Christmas and New Year’s to have a biopsy and that biopsy turned into three operations in seven days,” Frederick said. “We took care of the problem and I had a lumpectomy in one breast. I had radiation treatments and physical therapy. (But) that’s not even the worst of it. You’re not your own person for awhile after that.
“There was no breast cancer in our family on either side,” she added. “I had to be the first. For this I don’t like to be the first.”
Unfortunately, Frederick wasn’t the last person in her family to get cancer. She would see several family members battle the disease and eventually succumb, including her father, niece, a brother and brother-in-law. Another brother also was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis about a year ago. He was given a prognosis of three years to live.
Frederick needed a lot of help after receiving her diagnosis. Her mother was that help — someone to drive her, care for her and listen to her as she fought with the devastating disease.
“My mom lived to be 91 and I was going through my breast cancer. She was taking care of my dad when he had colon cancer,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I don’t have my dad anymore. I don’t have my mom anymore. As it turned out, my mom needed help and I needed help and we were together. I lived with her for her last two and a half years. Then she said there’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just old.”
Frederick’s mother died in 1996.
“She was there for me, so she knows what this (Relay for Life) is all about,” Frederick said. “My mom went through all this — losing her son, then me (getting breast cancer), and losing her husband. She was (a strong woman). She’s my angel.”
Frederick said the memory of her mother is something that kept her strong, along with staying positive.
“And laughter,” she said. “Laugh at everything. Humor is the best medicine ever. You can cry and you can laugh — (it’s OK) to go through all kinds of emotions.”
“I feel like I made a difference by coming (to the Relay for Life),” Frederick said. “I feel like I made that difference and that’s why I’m here today.”
Frederick is “still kicking” and works as a substitute teacher for Norwalk City Schools.
Still battling, but smiling
On May 7, 2015 Joanna Livermore, 45, received news that would affect the rest of her life. She was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.
Livermore wasted no time and made an appointment for the following week at the Cleveland Clinic.
“We hit it hard and I did 20 weeks of chemo,” she said.
“I started on June 8 and ended Oct 19. I had my first mastectomy Nov 25 by Dec 25 I got an infection. Then on Dec. 28 we had to remove it; we scraped everything out. Three days after that, my kidneys started to shut down because the medicine I was taking was not cooperating.”
Livermore is doing better now, but the journey isn’t quite over yet.
“So being that I had the BRCA2 gene and stage 3 breast cancer, I opted for both mastectomy and hysterectomy. I had pre-cancer cells in my cervix and with the BRCA gene it creates ovarian cancer so I just wanted it all done, being that I’m 45 and out of the realm of having children,” she said.
“So I’m getting it all done, I’m getting it cleaned out and I’m going for reconstruction. I start November with reconstruction and we’ll just go from there. ... I don’t mind sharing my story because when I look back I have come a long way.”
That positive outlook has carried her through some of the darker, more challenging days, she said.
“I wake up and I’m walking and I’m breathing and I thank (God) for that because he’s the one that gave me that second chance and gave me the will to fight,” Livermore said.
“It wasn’t so much fighting to get up everyday. It was more fighting to make my family realize this is real; it did happen. That was my struggle. My sister was like, ‘It’s OK’ and it’s not OK. It’s not a booboo you can put a Band-Aid on and fix it. ... It was me standing in the middle with no one to scream to but myself and I had to help heal them and I couldn’t do it.”
So rather than asking for more, Livermore decided to give back more by getting involved in her church. She said she feels good and enjoys giving back.
“Now I smile because I’ve come so far from where I started,” she said.
“I just met someone not that long ago that wanted to end her life because she got breast cancer and her mother, father and brother all died from cancer. I told her, ‘You are human and you are important. You are a survivor because you woke up today. What could make you more important than that?’”
That’s one of the reasons Livermore went to the Relay for Life on Saturday.
“We’re all in it together, male or female — no matter your age,” Livermore said. “We have to stick together. As a survivor, only I know what that person went through. But if you haven’t gone through it, then you need to find a way to help. They need to feel like they’re not alone because that’s scary to feel like you’re all alone.”
Hope for a cure
“We wouldn’t be here for (the Relay for Life) if we weren’t all here to try to find a cure,” said cancer survivor Jennifer Evans of Norwalk.
“I keep hearing of more and more people getting cancer. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s on my brain now or not but with things like this (Relay for Life) maybe a cure will happen in my lifetime. Maybe we’ll actually find a cure for everybody, for everyone to have a long life.”
“We have to keep moving forward, to keep loving people and caring enough to make a difference with this darn disease,” Evans said.
That continues to be the goal of American Cancer Society and the Relay for Life, and with this year’s activities, hopefully they have moved closer to finding that cure.
Any who would like to get involved in the event next year or who would like to give to the cause of fighting against cancer can email [email protected] or [email protected]