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Cancer Survivors are our Heroes of Hope

CA 2013 HOH Website

 

2013 Heroes of Hope

KristenAlbair

Kristen Albair

Relay For Life of San Diego Downtown
Border Sierra Region
"Purple is powerful. Purple is the color of Survivors. I am a Survivor I am powerful."
request Kristen Albair to speak

Penni Allen

Penni Allen

Relay For Life of Almaden
Silicon Coastal Region
"Relay allows me to make a difference in the lives of friends, family and strangers impacted by cancer."
request Penni Allen to speak

Bruce Bogart
Bruce Bogart

Relay For Life of Danville
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
"Though our cancer diagnosis makes us a statistic, we are not a cancer diagnosis - you are not alone."
request Bruce Bogart to speak

Deborah Bordeaux

Debbie Bordeaux

Relay For Life of Oakley
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
"I am proud to be an American Cancer Society Volunteer; I Relay to find a cure."
request Debbie Bordeaux to speak

AmyBreehl

Amy Breehl

Relay For Life of El Centro
Border Sierra Region
"Do not get discouraged, find something positive in everything, and never lose your faith!!!"
request Amy Breehl to speak

DebbyBridkey

Debby Brickey

Relay For Life of Ridgecrest
Border Sierra Region
"I want to give people the gift I received when I attend my first Relay For Life... HOPE"
request Debby Brickey to speak

Linda Bulotti

Linda Bulotti

Relay For Life of Nevada County
Great Valley Region
"There is hope and never give up!"
request Linda Bulotti to speak

Toni Colley

Toni Colley

Relay For Life of Lake Forest
Orange County Region
"The best way to fight back is to help find a cure for cancer."
request Toni Colley to speak

TheresaAnnBurkettDavidson

Theresa Ann-Burkett Davidson

Relay For Life of West Sacramento
Great Valley Region
"Cancer is a bump in the road of life not a barrier to living life."
request Theresa Ann-Burkett Davidson to speak
read more

JoyceDouglas

Joyce Douglas

Relay For Life of Brea
Orange County Region
"I will fight to end cancer so no one has to hear the words, You have cancer - will YOU join me?"
request Joyce Douglas to speak

BridgetteEilers

Bridgette Eilers

Relay For Life of Modesto
Great Valley Region
"I had cancer, cancer did not have me."
request Bridgette Eilers to speak

Julie Elkins

Julie Elkins

Relay For Life of Newport Beach
Orange County Region
"I love being a part of a community that gets it…a community of HOPE!"
request Julie Elkins to speak

CurtisFournier

Curtis Fournier

Relay For Life of Los Banos
Great Valley Region
"One day we fill find a cure but until then everybody can do something to help."
request Curtis Fournier to speak

Bernadette Glenn

Bernadette Glenn

Relay For Life of Oxnard
Silicon Coastal Region
"Our voices will be heard. I will speak for those who are afraid."
request Bernadette Glenn to speak

CassieGunter

Cassie Gunter

Relay For Life of Atwater
Great Valley Region
"A positive attitude trumps all. You can't fight it alone - it's a team based battle."
request Cassie Gunter to speak
read more

LindaHirsh

Linda C.Hirsh

Relay For Life of Culver City
Los Angeles Region
"Relay For Life has allowed me to celebrate my cancer in such a positive way!"
request Linda C.Hirsh to speak

LisaHodge

Lisa Hodge

Relay For Life of Vacaville
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
"Today is a Gift!"
request Lisa Hodge to speak

JessicaHood

Jessica Hood

Relay For Life of Roseville
Great Valley
"I Relay to help take the fear out of cancer, I am the face of a fighter."
request Jessica Hood to speak

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

Relay For Life of Claremont
Los Angeles Region
"Everyone wants happiness, no one wants pain, but you can't make a rainbow without a little rain."
request Jennifer Johnson to speak

StefanieLinsley

Stefanie Linsley

Relay For Life of Siskiyou County
Great Valley
"Mental strength - Hope is more than a word."
request Stefanie Linsley to speak

Margarita Lopez

Margarita Lopez

Relay For Life of Fairfield
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
"One day at a time…in gratitude."
request Margarita Lopez to speak

AlisonMercerSmith

Alison Mercer-Smith

Relay For Life of Claremont Colleges
Los Angeles Region
"No one should have to fight alone."
request Alison Mercer-Smith to speak

AlexisMorgan

Alexis Morgan

Relay For Life of Riverside City College
Border Sierra Region
"Since I heard the three most terrifying words of a cancer patient, I live everyday as it would be my last - I will make a difference."
request Alexis Morgan to speak

Alfred Nixon

Alfred Nixon

Relay For Life of Corona
Border Sierra Region
"Not only women get breast  cancer, early detection saves lives."
request Alfred Nixon to speak

Tonya Pan

Tonya Pan

Relay For Life of San Diego
Border Sierra Region
"'Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you.' - Aldous Huxley"
request Tonya Pan to speak

Todd Pourroy

Todd Pourroy

Relay For Life of Ventura
Silicon Coastal Region
"'Y.O.L.O' you only live once. So live life every day to the fullest."
request Todd Pourroy to speak

 

John Ready

John E. Ready

Relay For Life of Burlingame
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
"Don't stop fighting! We are here for you."
request John E. Ready to speak

CherylRobnett

Cheryl Robnett

Relay For Life of Manteca
Great Valley
"'Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.' - Helen Keller"
request Cheryl Robnett to speak

CandaceRodriguez

Candace Rodriguez

Relay For Life of Eagle Rock
Los Angeles Region
"'It's not what they take away from you that counts, it's what you do with what you have left.' - Hubert Humphrey"
request Candace Rodriguez to speak

Vanessa Rodriguez

Vanessa Rodriguez

Relay For Life of Red Bluff
Great Valley Region
"I Relay to give hope to others."
request Vanessa Rodriguez to speak

PatsyRomero

Pasty R. Romero

Relay For Life of Bakersfield
Great Valley Region
"Faith, Family, Friends and the Society  has kept HOPE eternal for me."
request Pasty R. Romero to speak

Jennifer Rudin

Jennifer Rudin

Relay For Life of Chino
Border Sierra Region
"Cancer in not the end. It is the beginning of a new chapter. We will fight and we will beat cancer."
request Jennifer Rudin to speak

Karen Santos

Karen Santos

Relay For Life of San Leandro
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
"Living my new normal, sharing my story."
request Karen Santos to speak

SusanScammon

Susan Scammon

Relay For Life of Lincoln
Great Valley Region
"Living a new life, with a new focus and a new normal."
request Susan Scammon to speak

GwenSchmitt

Gwen Schmitt

Relay For Life of Oakdale
Great Valley Region
"A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour"
request Gwen Schmitt to speak
read more 

SusanGlickShachory

Susan Shachory Glick

Relay For Life of Tarzana
Los Angeles Region
"As long as I have a voice, I will continue to fight! Cancer will never break my spirit!"
request Susan Shachory Glick to speak

Rick Siefke

Rick Siefke

Relay For Life of Fairfield
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
"There's nothing greater than HOPE!"
request Rick Siefke to speak

Nina Sorkin

Nina Sorkin

Relay For Life of Downtown Los Angeles
Los Angeles Region
"Let's work together to end cancer."
request Nina Sorkin to speak

LeanneTaylor

Le Anne Taylor

Relay For Life of Long Beach
Los Angeles Region
".It's equally important to focus on life 'after' cancer - this isn't the end, it's the beginning and attitude really does determine everything."
request Le Anne Taylor to speak

KelliVigorito

Kelli A. Vigorito

Relay For Life of Menifee
Border Sierra Region
"On my way to being cancer free! Attitude defines everything."
request Kelli A. Vigorito to speak

CathyVincent

Cathy Vincent

Relay For Life of Napa
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
"Hope is the key."
request Cathy Vincent to speak

Lauri Waiters

Lauri Waiters

Relay For Life of San Luis Obispo
Silicon Coastal Region
"There are so many wonderful reasons why I Relay."
request Lauri Waiters to speak

Wayne Wieboldt

Wayne Wieboldt

 Relay For Life of Encinitas
Border Sierra Region
"Not just surviving but thriving."
request Wayne Wieboldt to speak

RachaelWilson

Rachael Wilson

Relay For Life of UCLA
Los Angeles Region
"I am now living life to the fullest, not as a cancer victim, but as a cancer SURVIVOR!"
request Rachel Wilsom to speak


2012 Heroes of Hope 

CA RFL FY12 Rachel Alonzo

Rachel Alonzo

 Relay For Life of Dana Point
Orange County Region
"I didn’t let the diagnosis dampen my positive outlook on life."
read more
request Rachel Alonzo to speak

CA RFL FY12 Linda Arnold
Linda Arnold

Relay For Life of Hanford
Great Valley Region
"It’s made me more aware of other people,and more appreciative of my health."
read more
request Linda Arnold to speak

CA RFL FY12 Joe Bick

Joe Bick

Relay For Life of Tuolumne County
Great Valley Region
"Thankfully my cancer has been caught early on each occasion."
read more
request Joe Bick to speak

CA RFL FY12 Debbie Clay

Debbie Clay 

 Relay For Life of Vallejo
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I didn’t win Survivor, but I should have, because those folks have no idea the gauntlet we go through at 'Cancer Camp!'"
read more
request Debbie Clay to speak

CA RFL FY12 Barbara Duggins

Barbara Duggins

Relay For Life of Tehachapi
Great Valley Region
"I have learned that I can be of support to those going through the same things as our family and that there is always hope."
read more
request Barbara Duggins to speak

CA RFL FY12 Darlene Duron

Darlene Duron

Relay For Life of Colton
Border Sierra Region
"I like meeting new people and hearing their stories, and being able to share the experience with them.”
read more
request Darlene Duron to speak

CA RFL FY12 Maria Luisa Flores
Maria Luisa Flores

Relay For Life of Costa Mesa
Orange County Region
"We are strength in numbers so let’s get together and do whatever it takes to take the word “cancer” out of our vocabulary."
read more
request Maria Luisa Flores to speak

CA RFL FY12 Sandra Funtanellas

Sandra Funtanellas

Relay For Life of Santa Rosa
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I believe the clinical trial is what saved my life."
read more
request Sandra Funtanellas to speak 

CA RFL FY12 Jackie Gash

Jackie Gash

Relay For Life of Salinas
Silicon Coastal Region
"Cancer made me realize that I needed to change my priorities."
read more
request Jackie Gash to speak

CA RFL FY12 Mark-Antonio Grant

Mark-Antonio Grant

Relay For Life of Beverly Hills
Los Angeles Region
"It’s the love which connects us all as soldiers in the battle against cancer."
read more
request Mark-Antonio Grant to speak

 

CA RFL FY12 Maureen Herris

Maureen Herris

Relay For Life of Vista
Border Sierra Region
"I am fortunate to have the support of family, friends, even strangers."
read more
request Maureen Herris to speak

CA RFL FY12 Tracy Hostetter

Tracy Hostetter

Relay For Life of Fairfield
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"My students have been a wonderful inspiration to keep doing my very best."
read more
request Tracy Hostetter to speak

CA RFL FY12 Bob Kinzel

Bob Kinzel

Relay For Life of Burbank
Los Angeles Region
"Each day, I celebrate in my battle with cancer, I remember those who we have lost to cancer, and I commit myself to always fighting."
read more
request Bob Kinzel to speak

CA RFL FY12 Hazel Knowles2

Hazel Knowles

Relay For Life of Union City
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"Today, people diagnosed with cancer have hope."
read more
request Hazel Knowles to speak

CA RFL FY12 Ashley Kritzer

Ashley Kritzer 

Relay For Life of Palmdale
Border Sierra Region
"I am a better person with a greater understanding of how special life really is. Cancer will always be a part of me; it has made me who I am today."
read more
request Ashley Kritzer to speak

 

CA RFL FY12 Brittany Magno

Brittany Magno

Relay For Life of Santa Clarita
Los Angeles Region
"
I want to do my part, so that one day, not one person would have to go through what I and my family have."
read more
request Brittany Magno to speak

 

CA RFL FY12 Natalie McQueen

Natalie McQueen

Relay For Life of Mountain View
Silicon Coastal Region
"I don’t look at life the same way; never on the sidelines."
read more
request Natalie McQueen to speak
  


 

CA RFL FY12 Shea Neely

Shea Neely 

Relay For Life of San Jacinto
Border Sierra Region
"Through Relay I have been able to realize I have a purpose, to help others with their journey."
 read more
request Shea Neely to speak

 

CA RFL FY12 Peggy Osterhout

Peggy Osterhout

Relay For Life of Poway
Border Sierra Region
"I hope this coming generation doesn’t have to know the grief that cancer has caused."
read more
request Peggy Osterhout to speak 

 

 

CA RFL FY12 Terri Rowitz

Terri Rowitz

Relay For Life of Lancaster
Border Sierra Region
"I was lost and did know where to turn. The American Cancer Society provided me with the guidance to help me through my journey."
read more
request Terri Rowitz to speak

 

 

CA RFL FY12 Cathy Stevens

Cathy Stevens 

Relay For Life of Covina
Los Angeles Region
"As I walked that lap I remembered all of my experiences with cancer."
read more
request Cathy Stevens to speak

CA RFL FY12 Jill Thompson

Jill Thompson

Relay For Life of Half Moon Bay
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I believe that mammogram saved my life."
read more
request Jill Thompson to speak 

CA RFL FY12 Amy Tuleen

Amy Tuleen

Relay For Life of Newark
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I don't want anyone ever to have to go through what I did."
read more
request Amy Tuleen to speak 

 

CA RFL FY12 Dave Wesley

Dave Wesley

Relay For Life of El Dorado County
Great Valley Region
"We all remember significant dates in our lives, births, marriages, children, national events. But survivors remember another date, emblazoned forever in our memories."
read more
request Dave Wesley to speak


 

CA RFL FY12 Jeannie West

Jeannie West

Relay For Life of El Centro
Border Sierra Region
"A cancer diagnosis in not a death sentence. It is a reason to Fight Back!"
read more
request Jeannie West to speak

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2011 Heroes of Hope

Laura Baldini

Laura Baldini

Relay For Life of Redwood City
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I realized I have a lot. Each day is a gift, to be taken to heart. Each birthday is a big deal."
read more
request Laura Baldini to speak

Bushra Biviji

Bushra Biviji

Relay For Life of Tustin
Orange County Region
"I Relay to give back the support the American Cancer Society gave me when I needed it. Relay For Life gave me hope."
read more
request Bushra Biviji to speak

Patricia Brown
 
Patricia Brown

Relay For Life of Cupertino
Silicon Coastal Region
"Relay has become part of what I do and who I am. After 4 years, I am sitll getting back more than I give to Relay."
read more
request Patricia Brown to speak

Monica Cervantes

Monica Cervantes

Relay For Life of Hawthorne
Los Angeles Region
"I Relay to give back to the Society for how generous they have been to me and do what strangers did for me, and to raise funds for others that might need any type of service."
read more
request Monica Cervantes to speak

Lisa Collodi
 
Lisa Collodi

Relay For Life of Rohnert Park
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I fight back by telling my story. I let people know all the programs the American Cancer Society has to offer."
read more
request Lisa Collodi to speak

Margaret Felberg

Margaret Felberg

Relay For Life of San Dimas
Los Angeles Region
"Relay has made me feel like I have taken back some of the joy in my life that cancer had taken. It makes me happy to be a part of my community."
read more
request Margaret Felberg to speak

Patti Gahagan

Patti Gahagan

Relay For Life of Alamden
Silicon Coastal Region
"Cancer made me stop and take a look at my life and my goals. I have a renewed determination to make the most of my life.”
read more
request Patti Gahagan to speak

Jonetta Green

Jonetta Green

Relay For Life of Arcadia
Los Angeles Region
"I Relay to help others and to get the word out that we are in desperate need for a cure. I also Relay to show others that despite having cancer we are still here and we live on."
read more
request Jonetta Green to speak

Linda Hankinson

Linda Hankinson

Relay For Life of San Jacinto
Border Sierra Region
"We lived in our community for 4 years and never heard about the Relay For Life. My mission is to educate the community and get them to participate in a great cause because you never know when cancer will strike."
read more
request Linda Hankinson to speak

Rhonda Jones

Rhonda Jones 

Relay For Life of Wasco
Great Valley Region
"Relay has given me the satisfaction of knowing I'm involved in something that is positive and helping countless people."
read more
request Rhonda Jones to speak

Clinton Judd
 
Clinton Judd 

Relay For Life of Santa Paula
Silicon Coastal Region
"Every year Relay reminds me of my important responsibility as a survivor to help others. It gives me hope for my own future."
read more
request Clinton Judd to speak

Dorothy Lake

Dorothy Lake
 

Relay For Life of South San Francisco
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"Our communities must become more aware of the services offered by the Society. Relay For Life does that and it is a fun way to raise funds."
read more
request Dorothy Lake to speak

Michelle Lauffer

Michelle Lauffer 

Relay For Life of Rubidoux
Border Sierra Region
"I have seen direct results of the progress of the Society. When my sister was going through diagnosis and treatment, then 7 years ago, as I went through my journey, and when 2 more of my sisters were battling cancer."
read more
request Michelle Lauffer to speak

Elvira Medina

Elvira Medina

Relay For Life of Ocean Beach
Border Sierra Region
"I Relay because it is the Society's signature fundraiser, I want to help raise funds to support programs because I know they help make the cancer journey a little easier."
read more
request Elvira Medina to speak


Robin O'Conner

Robin O'Conner

Relay For Life of Costa Mesa
Orange County Region
"Relay give me a way of fighting. It gives me hope. It gives me a voice."
read more
request Robin O'Conner to speak

 


Linda Ponte

Linda Ponte

Relay For Life of Galt
Great Valley Region
"I Relay to HONOR, REMEMBER, and EDUCATE. I Relay to FIGHT BACK."
read more
request Linda Ponte to speak

 

Renee Riddle

Renee Riddle

Relay For Life of Tracy
Great Valley Region
"My first Relay I was a team captain and I knew for the first time in my life I was going the right thing. I learned about the Society and the services they provide along with the research - it was a win-win!"
read more
request Renee Riddle to speak

 


Linda Sabatello

Linda Sabatello

Relay For Life of Riverside
Border Sierra Region
"Thru Relay I have met some incredible people. Whenever I look into a Survivor's eyes I get inspired all over again to keep fighting!"
read more
request Linda Sabatello to speak

 

Victoria Shatavyzadeh

Victoria Shatavyzadeh 

Relay For Life of Indio
Border Sierra Region
"Relay has made me more aware of the community of people in my area that are trying to make a difference in caner research every day."
read more
request Victoria Shatavyzadeh to speak

 


Lorraine Silvera

Lorraine Silvera

Relay For Life of Orangevale
Great Valley Region
"I value every day. I have become a volunteer with Relay For Life to get the message to the community that the American Cancer Society is here to help with services."
read more
request Lorraine Silvera to speak

 

 

Marilyn White

Marilyn White

Relay For Life of Gardena
Los Angeles Region
"I am grateful for the life I have and am so full that I want to give to others what was so generously given to me."
read more
request Marilyn White to speak


 

 


Tina Yusty Benitez

Tina Benitez

Relay For Life of Shadow Hills/Sunland
Los Angeles Region
"The way people come together for this goal is amazing to me. I feel so inspired and energized by the sight of all the participants and volunteers."
read more
request Tina Yusty Benitez to speak


Return to top

 

2010 Heroes of Hope

Kristina Boggs

Kristina Boggs

Relay For Life of Vallejo
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I fight back by getting others involved. One person at a time, one dollar at a time, we can change the “Big C” from cancer to CURE!" 
request Kristina Boggs to speak

Janet Davila

Janet Davila

Relay For Life of Santa Maria
Silicon Coastal Region
"I fight back by telling others about the
American Cancer Society and promoting CPS-3. I get regular health screenings, eat healthy, exercise, and enjoy life."
request Janet Davila to speak

Richard Hale

Richard Hale
 

Relay For Life of Orangevale
Great Valley Region
"I fight back by Relaying for my mom, who I lost to cancer. If you leave Relay without crying, laughing, aching feet, and a community of new friends, you left too soon!"
request Richard Hale to speak

Gail Henderson-Peter

Gail Henderson-Peter
 

Relay For Life of Chino
Border Sierra Region
"I fight back by addressing cancer disparities in my community, talking to everyone I can about cancer prevention, early detection, and the impact the Society has on so many."
request Gail Henderson-Peter to speak

Christine Payette

Christine Payette

Relay For Life of Garden Grove
Orange County Region
"I fight back at Relay events, by being an ACS CAN member and a Legislative Ambassador, and by stressing the importance of early detection of cancer with everyone I meet."
request Christine Payette to speak

Debbie Sanchez

Debbie Sanchez

Relay For Life of Gilroy
Silicon Coastal Region
"I fight back by letting people know that I am here, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to raise awareness, money, and resources to support the fight against cancer."
request Debbie Sanchez to speak

Melanie Serrano

Melanie Serrano

Relay For Life of La Puente
Los Angeles Region
"I fight back by staying active, eating right, and most of all, having faith. I live life to the fullest and will never give up."
request Melanie Serrano to speak



Return to top

 

2009 Heroes of Hope

Lori Bremner
Lori Bremner

Leukemia Survivor
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
All of us Heroes feel very lucky to be alive and to have the chance to use our voices in the fight against cancer.”
read more

request Lori Bremner to speak

LaVerna Edmonds

LaVerna Edmonds

Breast Cancer & Leukemia Survivor Los Angeles Region
"I fight back by talking to people and letting them know about all the good the American Cancer Society does!"
read more

request LaVerna Edmonds to speak

Marty Holmes
Marty Holmes

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor
Great Valley Region
“I Relay to celebrate my life and the lives of other cancer survivors, and to honor my father.”
read more
request Marty Holmes to speak

Beverlye HymanFead 
Beverlye Hyman-Fead

Uterine Cancer (Leiomyosarcoma) Survivor 
Silicon Coastal Region
“I fight back by following my passion and setting long-term goals.” 
read more
request Beverlyn Hyman-Fead to speak

Elizabeth Martin
Elizabeth Martin

Breast Cancer Survivor
Border Sierra Region
“I called the 800 number on the day I was diagnosed and the American Cancer Society has been a part of my life ever since.” 
read more
request Elizabeth Martin to speak

Danella Putna

Danella Putna

Sacral Ependymoma Survivor
Los Angeles Region
“I want to make sure people  know that cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence and that no one has to face it alone” 
read more
request Danella Putna to speak

Carol Tortorelli

Carol Tortorelli

Breast Cancer Survivor
Silicon Coastal Region
“I am living proof that research works and you can beat cancer.”
read more
request Carol Tortorelli to speak

renita wickes

Renita Wickes

Ovarian Cancer Survivor
Border Sierra Region
“I know that one day our purple ribbon will stand for the fact that we have found a cure.” 
read more
request Renita Wickes to speak

Vickie Wilkinson

Vickie Wilkinson

Uterine Cancer Survivor
Great Valley Region
“I fight back by spreading the word about Relay For Life.“
read more
request Vickie Wilkinson to speak

  Maria Williams

Maria Williams

Breast Cancer Survivor
Great Valley Region
“Cancer has inspired me to celebrate life and give back.“
read more 
request Maria Williams to speak

Wanda Zimmerman

Wanda Zimmerman

Breast Cancer Survivor
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
“I participate. I communicate. I am involved!”
read more
request Wanda Zimmerman to speak

 

  Geri Stanley

Geri Stanley

Multiple Myeloma Survivor
“Today I’m a Walking Miracle! Thanks to Cancer Research my Cancer is treatable, and there is HOPE!!“
read more
request Geri Stanley to speak 

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Invite Heroes of Hope to bring excitement and motivation to Relay events, including:

  • Team Meetings
  • Committee Meetings
  • Relay Rallies
  • Kickoffs
  • Team Captain Meetings
  • Regional Team Meetings
Request a Hero of Hope to speak at your Relay event by clicking on the request link in the Hero's profile. Please make all requests at least 3 weeks in advance.

 

Heroes of Hope Profiles of Courage

Cassie Gunter
 
Relay For Life of Atwater
Great Valley Region
"A positive attitude trumps all. You can't fight it alone - it's a team based battle."
request Cassie Gunter to speak

In the month prior to being diagnosed, I had symptoms of bronchitis (constant coughing, trouble breathing) and my fingertips were a bluish hue. I found softball sized bruises on my arms and legs that I couldn't explain. I blamed my symptoms on a prior diagnosis of asthma, stress from finals at school and jet lag from a recent family vacation to Europe. On June 30, 2006, I could hear my heart beating, which just seemed to get louder and louder throughout the day, preventing me from getting any rest. That day, I began to feel pain in my lower ribs. Around 11 that night, my mom and sister took me to the Emergency Room. Within the hour, we learned that my lab results indicated that my hemoglobin, or red blood cell count, was 4.2. The normal range is 12 to 15. I was admitted to the critical care unit and received a blood transfusion of 2 pints that night. A couple days later, I underwent my first bone marrow biopsy. On July 7th, I learned that I had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. 

The day that I learned I had cancer was surreal to me. I learned that the pain in my lower ribs was caused by the spread of the leukemia cells; the fatigue, bluish fingers and bruising was from the anemia. The coughing and symptoms that were misdiagnosed as bronchitis were from the lack of oxygen in my blood stream. I had heard the word cancer, known people who had cancer but I really had no idea what having cancer meant or what was to come. After spending a few more days in my local hospital, I was transported by ambulance to Stanford Hospital, 2 1/2 hours away. I spent the next 7 months undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant. I spent over 2 of those months hospitalized and lost my hair twice.

Today I'm happy to say that I am once again living a normal life. Last year, I celebrated the milestone of being cancer free for 6 years. I am now considered cured of a cancer that 20 years ago, was considered a death sentence. For me, the words hope and cure symbolize the progress cancer research has made and continues to make each day. I am living proof of that progress.

Gwen Schmitt
Relay For Life of Oakdale
Great Valley Region
"A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour"
request Gwen Schmitt to speak

Happily married at 42. Check. Two great kids at 42. Check. Great job at 42. Check. Triple negative breast cancer at 42.. NO!

Was it what I had planned? No. Was it devastating to hear those words? Yes. Was it the hardest thing to ever tell our kids. Yes. Was it difficult to go through chemotherapy & radiation. Yes.

Gameplan for kicking cancer's butt. Check. Vowing to tell everyone how Relay For Life and the message of self exams literally saved me. Check.

Cancer does not define me. But it has enriched my life with the people who were brought into it because of cancer. My name is Gwen Schmitt. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a Relayer and I'm a 10 year Breast Cancer Suvivor.  
 


Rachel Alonzo

Relay For Life of Dana Point
Orange County Region
"I didn’t let the diagnosis dampen my positive outlook on life."
request Rachel Alonzo to speak

Rachel's story coming soon!

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Linda Arnold

Relay For Life of Hanford
Great Valley Region
"It’s made me more aware of other people, and more appreciative of my health."
request Linda Arnold to speak

In August 2003, I was scheduled for my annual mammogram. At that same time my youngest daughter was put in the hospital. Now, everyone knows that you never cancel a mammogram because you won’t get in for months but, being the mom I am, I knew I belonged at the hospital. My next mammogram appointment was scheduled for October. Well, the day following my appointment I get a call from the doctor saying the image was not good and I needed to go back for a re-take. OK. No problem. Well, he wasn’t exactly truthful because when I went in he told me he found some abnormalities called calcium deposits and there was a 90% chance it was nothing to worry about. However, to be on the safe side, he wanted me to have a biopsy.

The biopsy came and went and they said it would be a week before they knew anything but it all looked good. About four days later, on Halloween 2003 to be exact, I got a call at work and they said, “Mrs. Arnold, your results came in and they are positive. You will need to come in and talk to the doctor about your options.” You could have hit me in the head with a baseball bat and I wouldn’t have felt it.

Halloween came and went and I couldn’t bear to tell my family and ruin their Halloween. That night my husband, Steve, asked me when the doctor was supposed to call me and the floodgates opened up. I was a mess! He hugged me and told me not to worry; we’ll get through it together as a family. I think the hardest part was having to tell everyone. 

Before my surgery I had to have a nuclear medicine x-ray. When Steve and I saw the x-ray, we were baffled. We couldn’t see anything and asked the technician to show us where the cancer was on the film. He pointed to some small pinholes and said, “See that? That’s your cancer.” It was the size of salt and pepper. For the first time since this ordeal started, we felt lucky. What if I had my mammogram in August? More then likely they wouldn’t have found the cancer until my next annual exam and the cancer would have had a year to grow. Because of all these extraordinary circumstances, I only had to have a partial mastectomy and 6 weeks of follow up radiation. So many women have gone through full or even double mastectomy with the chemotherapy to follow. I was so very lucky!

I thank God for the way things turned out and for the support of my friends and family. I am now going to be eight years cancer free this year on Halloween. My family is now very involved in the Relay For Life of Hanford and we have every intention of wiping out this disease the affects so many people. 


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Joe Bick

Relay For Life of Tuolumne County
Great Valley Region
"Thankfully my cancer has been caught early on each occasion."
request Joe Bick to speak

Joe's story coming soon!


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Debbie Clay

Relay For Life of Vallejo
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I didn’t win Survivor, but I should have, because those folks have no idea the gauntlet we go through at 'Cancer Camp!'"
request Debbie Clay to speak

It all started one morning in April of 2010 as I got out of the shower. I don't look at myself naked in the mirror very often. I am usually focused on my face and hair. The universe or my Angels conspired though to make me take a good look that morning. Something was off. I noticed one of my breast was just not hanging like it used to. There was a very slight pucker in my left breast, almost negligible. Something was different. That’s how it all started, noticing a little something did not look right. I scheduled that year’s mammogram right away, and my primary care doctor called a short time later. “Looks like there is something we need to check out further, I’ve scheduled you for an ultrasound next Monday, and a biopsy on Wednesday.” We hung up. I called her back. “Doc, I can’t stand this waiting, is there anything else you can tell me?  Please.”

On April 21, 2010, I was diagnosed with Stage III Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in my left breast. The tumor was big, 5 cm from what they could tell, spread out across the left side of my breast like a comet. It had gone undiagnosed in previous mammograms.

Why me? What did I do wrong? This can’t be right. I’ve always been a healthy person and a lot of the things they say reduce breast cancer risk I already did.

I had a lot of misconceptions about cancer and who gets breast cancer, until I was diagnosed. I never knew that the two greatest risks for breast cancer are just being a woman, and growing older. I never knew that all women can get breast cancer, even those who have no family history. I never knew that not all breast cancer appears in the form of a lump. All the years I faithfully did breast exams, searching for a pea, a kumquat or a golf ball, I never realized there are some types of breast cancer tumors that are more like a web, and feel more like a hardening in the breast. I never knew there are some types of breast cancer that a mammogram does not pick up until the tumor is large. I never knew that an itchy breast, or dimpling on the breast may be a sign of breast cancer. I never knew that you may reduce your chances of breast cancer by limiting how much alcohol you drink, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight. I never knew that some types of breast cancer use estrogen as fuel.

Nobody and nothing can ever prepare you to hear the words “You have cancer.” It became my new four letter word with six letters. Cancer. I have cancer. The more informed I got about breast cancer, and the growing number of Americans diagnosed with cancer in our country every year, the more I realized the “Why me” is really a “Why not me?”

I didn’t win Survivor, but I should have cause those folks have no idea the gauntlet we go through at “Cancer Camp!”  We survived one challenge after the other, way more difficult than anything they could ever make up, and we were never once guaranteed immunity. 

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Barbara Duggins

Relay For Life of Tehachapi
Great Valley Region
"I have learned that I can be of support to those going through the same things as our family and that there is always hope."
request Barbara Duggins to speak

I was first “introduced” to cancer on a personal level at age 19 when my birth father was diagnosed as terminal with melanoma. At that age, I knew very little about the disease. I had heard the word “cancer” but it had never really struck our family. Before I knew it, my father was gone. Twenty-five years later, cancer again reared it’s ugly head and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. After fiercely fighting the disease for four years through chemotherapy, radiation and personal stamina, she succumbed to this dreaded disease. 

Two months after losing my mother I went to a dermatologist for a routine check of my mole-speckled body. Over the years since my father’s death, family members had been telling me I should be checked, so after losing my mom I made an appointment for the exam  and was all ready for a routine “you’re fine” when I was hit with the news…..”you’ve got cancer.” Seems as though a mole I had for quite some time on the palm of my hand was melanoma…..oh, wait, it can’t be, not me…..these were the things that were running through my head initially. The doctor told me this had to be taken care of immediately and scheduled surgery the following week. I asked the same questions most people ask like could he get it all, what if they didn’t, etc. He said if they didn’t get it all we would discuss a further surgery and other options. Wow, everything was moving way too fast! During the days that followed I shifted my thoughts from me to my family. Afterall, they  had just dealt with losing my mother, how were they going to handle this? I knew that the survival rate if the melanoma had reached my lymph nodes was not good and I also knew what a toll my mother’s ordeal had on the family.

When the surgery was over the doctor told me they would have the results as to whether they had gotten it all or not within a few days. Those few days seemed to be an eternity. But then, I got the news….they had gotten it all!

That was twenty-three years ago, and I have been cancer-free since. But cancer wasn’t through with our family. In the years that followed we lost my stepdad and brother-in-law to cancer, and my husband and daughter were both diagnosed with melanoma. They are both survivors.

Even though there have been ups and downs, heartaches and triumphs through this history of cancer, I have learned that I can be of some support to those going through the same things as our family and that there is always hope.

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Darlene Duron

Relay For Life of Colton
Border Sierra Region
"I like meeting new people and hearing their stories, and being able to share the experience with them."
request Darlene Duron to speak

At the age of 36 I felt a lump in my left beast. I saw my doctor who ordered a mammogram which showed nothing, so he ordered an ultrasound and still nothing.

I waited 6 months to see if it changed or went away, which it didn’t, so my doctor ordered another ultrasound before he released me from his services. I had a biopsy that day and a week later I was told those ugly words, “you have cancer.” I remember him telling me about what was going to happen, but I don’t remember anything else; all I heard was those first words he said to me. I was angry and wanted to know why me. I though I was doing everything right. I kept my weight in check, ate right, exercised, and I considered myself young; plus there was no history of breast cancer in my family.

I had an optimistic outlook going into my first surgery. It was like just take it out so I can continue my life. After the first lumpectomy I was told I still had abnormal cells, so I had to have a second surgery, then a third. That’s when I started to get scared. How do you have so many abnormal cells when just 6 months prior there was no cancer? When I went in for my 3 post-op appointment I just had a feeling he was going to tell me I still had abnormal cells, which he did, so I decided right then that I wanted a mastectomy. As a matter of fact, I asked for a bilateral. I had 3 children who needed me and was not ready to leave them.

Before I had another surgery, it was recommended to go through chemotherapy first. Although I was at Stage I, the size of my tumor was the size of a Stage II, and due to my age I had to have chemotherapy for 4 months, recover and then have my mastectomy. It was a long 5 years, but after 4 previous surgeries and 4 reconstructive surgeries, 4 months of chemo, and countless outpatient procedures and tests I think I will be OK.

It’s now been 6 ½ years and although I feel great, cancer has made its presence in my family. As I write my story I am waiting for results for genetic testing, and praying it is only me.

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Maria Luisa Flores

Relay For Life of Costa Mesa
Orange County Region
"We are strength in numbers so let’s get together and do whatever it takes to take the word “cancer” out of our vocabulary."
request Maria Luisa Flores to speak

Six and a half years ago I was working at my job that I’d had for 19 years in a dental office. I noticed that it became very painful for me to sit and bend and do my job.  After a year of countless visits to my doctor. We decided I needed a hysterectomy. I had every test you can imagine.

  • colonoscopy
  • laparoscopy
  • colcascopy

I began to think my name was “OSCOPY.” I was even tested for cancer twice and all this came back negative!

Two weeks later as I slept at home my phone rang at 7am and my doctor said to me "Mrs. McCrea, I need to see you in my office as soon as possible." I called my friend and asked her to take me to the doctor. We both already knew it couldn’t be good.

My doctor then informed me my biopsy came back positive for cervical/uterine cancer.

Although I’d heard the word cancer before it didn’t pertain to me. Now I’d added words to my vocabulary like

  • Chemo
  • Radiation
  • Zofran
  • Hydration
  • Margins
  • Lymphs
  • Recall
  • Nausia

My oncologist handed me a card. He said you are going to have a lot questions and they may come at 2am. It was the card for the American Cancer Society’s 1-800 number. I did call and a very kind person walked me through my future treatements of chemo and radiation. I now had knowledge.

As my treatments progressed, I became dehydrated. I was sent to my nearest hospital. They unfortunately did not have room in the adult ward so they put me in the children's ward. At the moment I decided that, with my 80% chance of recovery, I would do whatever it took to make a difference for these children as they didn’t have a voice.

We are strength in numbers so lets get together and do what ever it takes to take the word cancer out of our vocabulary.

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Sandra Funtanellas

Relay For Life of Santa Rosa
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I believe the clinical trial is what saved my life."
request Sandra Funtanellas to speak

It was the Spring of 2000 and life was great! I had a wonderful husband, an amazing 9 year old daughter, loving friends and family. My husband and I owned our own business which was thriving, we had a beautiful home and a very comfortable lifestyle.

However, there was one nagging problem; I didn't feel well and hadn't felt well for almost two years. As we rang in the New Year and the new millennium, I wasn’t feeling much joy. I really wasn’t feeling well. I kept going to different doctors to find out what was wrong. I was told I was extremely anemic and probably had Crohn's disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. They  scheduled me for a colonoscopy for mid April.

On April 4, 2000, the pain in my abdomen was so intense that I had to go to the emergency room. The ER doctor examined me, checked me in to the hospital and scheduled me for an immediate colonoscopy. My gastroenterologist arrived; performed the colonoscopy and half way through the procedure she could not continue, something was obstructing the probe. It was a grapefruit sized tumor which was in the middle of my transverse colon; it was cancerous. I was immediately scheduled for surgery. My world stopped.

The surgery went remarkable well; the cancerous tumor was removed with clean margins along with 14 affected lymph nodes. Once back in my hospital room, the reality and horror of what was happening to me was setting in. I was told that I have Stage III Colon Cancer. I would have to have chemotherapy and that the prognosis for long term survival was not good. I was so afraid and in disbelief. I kept telling myself this really can’t be happening to me. I was feeling a lot of self-pity and FEAR!

First day of chemotherapy treatment arrived. My mother went with me and on the drive there I kept saying to her, "I can’t do this! I won’t do this!" She said, "what choice do you have?" I walked into the Cancer Center not intending to stay. God was with me that day because he sent an angel my way. A friend and mentor of mine, Judy, was sitting in the waiting room. I hadn’t seen her in a long time. I told her I was afraid. She told me her cancer was terminal and mine wasn’t. She told me to get over it and get going on treatment!! I had a chance, she didn’t. Well, that got my attention! Treatment started and I was offered a clinical trial. After a lot of discussion with family and my surgeon, I decided to go for it. I was going to feel terrible anyway, what’s a little more misery? Thank God I did the trial, I believe the clinical trial is what saved my life. 

An amazing thing happened during chemotherapy treatment. I started to look forward to going! I fell  in love with my nurses. When I was in the infusion room it always felt so healing, so spiritual. My nurses were my angels.

That was 11 years ago. I have been cancer free the entire 11 years. I attribute this to God watching over me and the cancer treatments I received from Redwood Regional Oncology Center.

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Jackie Gash

Relay For Life of Salinas
Silicon Coastal Region
"Cancer made me realize that I needed to change my priorities."
request Jackie Gash to speak

In 1992, my mother was diagnosed with leukemia. We went through her treatments and her personal struggles. Mom has and had the support of a large extended family. She is a SURVIVOR.

In 1997, a good friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. She asked me to be with her during her treatments. Together we were able to successfully complete all of the treatments.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. I had my surgery in February of 2000 and began my treatment. The changes and improvements in two years! Keeping a positive attitude in the face of cancer. However, the more I learned the easier it became, because I knew I would beat it! I was given chemotherapy and radiation for my cancer. I lost my hair and weight. The weight was not so bad, the hair was another story. In some ways, the hair loss was hard but finally just cutting it all of was “I’m in a fight that I will win.”

In 2001, I was a mentor to another good friend who was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Throughout it all we became very good friends and remain so to this day.

I was working at the time of my treatments and though some days were tough, I worked through it. I needed to keep going, to keep up my routine. I was out for four weeks with infections and surgery.

In April or May of 2000, a good friend asked my husband and me to help with a team in Relay For Life. I was still going through treatment, but attended and worked for the team. The team evolved into TEAM MONTEREY COUNTY. I served as a Relay committee member, co-chairperson and in 2005 chairperson/captain. My husband works right alongside me in all of it.

At the 2005 Salinas’ Relay For Life, I was presented with the very prestigious EVE MILLS AWARD. This award is given to the most inspirational volunteer at the Relay For Life. I have received other awards during my career but none compares to the EVE MILLS AWARD.

In 2001, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had his good days and he had his bad days but throughout it all, he was also a SURVIVOR. In 2009, my Dad was again diagnosed with cancer, this time lung and brain and in 2010, my Dad lost his battle with cancer. 

CANCER has changed my life. I have become more of a positive person. Cancer made me realize that I needed to change my priorities and make my family and myself number one. I look at life in a different way.

In 2007 I was asked to be the chairperson for CPS-3 (Cancer Prevention Study 3). I took the job and the Relay For Life of Salias was a great success; we were able to register 192 people who will now be involved in a 20-30 year study.

Working with the American Cancer Society has given me the opportunity to travel to many conferences and meet many wonderful people since my involvement with Relay For Life. I will continue to do my all to help spread the word of the need for further research since we need to find a cure for this devastating disease.

Once again in 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through chemotherapy only this time and had a mastectomy in August. I also again lost all my hair but it wasn’t as difficult experience as before since having gone through it once. 

I am on the road back to full recovery and full energy and look forward to working with everyone once again for American Cancer Society Relay For Life.

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Mark-Antonio Grant

Relay For Life of Beverly Hills
Los Angeles Region
"It’s the love which connects us all as soldiers in the battle against cancer."
request Mark-Antonio Grant to speak

On Friday, October 9, 2009, my life path began a journey which has set me on a road that has forever shaped my destiny. It is where I learned, first hand, the true meaning of the words, “No man is an island;” that our genuine love for one another is our most precious natural resource. For it was on October 9 that I learned that I had been diagnosed with colon cancer.
 
When I initially received the news, on that Friday afternoon, it was like a million ants entered my body – all carrying ice cubes with them, and shaking me uncontrollably. I had a weekend to reflect upon the magnitude of the news and where my life, as I now knew it, was headed.
 
Ted Kennedy, upon learning that he had cancer, and who experienced seeing two of his children have the disease, said, “I believe that approaching adversity with a positive attitude at least gives you a chance for success. Approaching it with a defeatist attitude predestines the outcome: defeat. And a defeatist’s attitude is just not in my DNA.”
 
It is such an attitude which has helped me through the rigors of this life-altering experience. But, more than that; it is the unwavering support of family and friends that has served as an anchor through the storm; when the waters of uncertainty and the unknown could easily have set me adrift into the seas of depression and despair.
 
And today, after having had successful surgery, resulting in the removal of a grapefruit-sized tumor, along with 40% of my colon; having had that surgery being followed up with six months of aggressive chemo therapy; and after experiencing hundreds of hours of the side effects of such an uncompromising treatment; I am happy to say that I am in remission. 
 
Though it was I who was diagnosed with the disease, I also know that I did not travel this journey alone. For I have witnessed and experienced, first hand, our human capacity for good; our basic instinct for kindness; and our national heritage of public service; all beautifully and touchingly displayed in a fashion which brings full understanding to the belief that when one of us is hurting, all of us feel the rippling effects of the pain; that the prayers, the encouragement, and the support I consistently received made the difference between  my being a boat being nervously knocked about in treacherous waters and a ship confidently navigating its way through choppy seas. I have been given a much deeper and very personal appreciation of the spirit of true community that goes hand in hand with the phrase, “I am my brother’s keeper.”
 
I have been blessed with the realization that all of my support comes from love; not the love of wine and dreams, but, rather the love which speaks from the tough fiber of the human heart. It’s the love which is committed to closing the gap between where I was when I discovered I had cancer, and where I needed to be in order to see myself through the ordeal. It’s the love of my Relay event coordinator who, though I was one of hundreds of people she was working with to put on our event, always made me feel as though my condition and treatments were unique. It’s the love which connects us all as soldiers in the battle against cancer; understanding that cancer touches us all; that some of us carry it within our bodies, while each and every one of us have it within our lives.
 
Yet, as I anchor at the port of relief from this ordeal, I would be remiss if I did not think of those who are still out there in the waters of uncertainty; of those who are just beginning on journeys of their own; and, sadly, of those who will not make it to their own safe harbor.
 
And that is why I see the honor of being a Hero of Hope recipient as a tremendous responsibility as well as an opportunity; an opportunity to serve as a symbol; a symbol of encouragement; a symbol of support; a symbol of comfort; and a symbol of Hope for others touched by the horrors of this disease.
 
I see this honor as an opportunity to articulate just how the Relays give us a beautiful platform to celebrate fellow survivors; honor those we have lost; and encourage others to be sure to get their regular check-ups.
 
I see this honor as an opportunity to express just how the spirit, the energy, the compassion and camaraderie of the Relay For Life events reaffirm the indispensable bond of the life-experience we all share with one another.
 
And I see this honor as an opportunity look forward to the future with confidence and with hope; providing an inspiration and promoting the vision of the American Cancer Society’s mission of “Creating a world with more birthdays.”

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Maureen Herris

Relay For Life of Vista
Border Sierra Region
"I am fortunate to have the support of family, friends, even strangers."
request Maureen Herris to speak

The new millennium, celebrations, the new century started with a bang! Within three months into the new millennium my world expanded into unknown territory.  I was 46 years old and diagnosed with in-situ carcinoma, breast cancer in my right breast. The American Cancer Society’s website – cancer.org -  was the first place I visited to arm myself in this battle that laid ahead.

My cancer trek has a happy ending – so far – I am blessed. I am fortunate to have the support of family, friends, even strangers. Throughout this trek and battle, the American Cancer Society was my constant guide, showing me the way, giving me direction, even comfort after surgery. I will be forever grateful to the researchers, doctors, employees and volunteers of the American Cancer Society. I know they have my back!

A stereotactic breast biopsy (a test that uses a special computer to guide a needle to an abnormality seen on mammography) confirmed what the mammogram showed.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer, when I was 46 years old. Calcifications were seen on my mammogram.  It was the third mammogram I had since turning 40.  My ob-gyn ordered it and called me to tell me there was something “suspicious” and he wanted me to see a surgeon. 

I was preparing for a trip to celebrate my mom’s 75th birthday, joining my 4 sisters and brother. I asked my ob-gyn if it could wait until I got back. He said yes. That was February 2000 and on Saint Patrick’s Day 2000 I had a mastectomy with 13 lymph nodes removed.

After chemotherapy and radiation, losing my hair, burned, opened sores on my chest wall, I survived. I fought and won. If not for the American Cancer Society, my family, friends, doctors and radiologists I would not have made through the first year if the millennium. 

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Tracy Hostetter

Relay For Life of Fairfield
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"My students have been a wonderful inspiration to keep doing my very best."
request Tracy Hostetter to speak

HOPE! That’s what I preserved for myself that November day in my doctor’s office. We were discussing our plan of attack for my newly diagnosed Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. I was only 47, and had never been a smoker. It was the time of life! I had raised 2 successful children, now in their early 20’s, working and building their own lives. I was just finishing up Bachelor’s Degree at CSU Sacramento, and working full-time helping young people with disabilities prepare for and acquire careers. I was living on my own in a home that I could afford to pay for – alone for the first time ever, and I felt like a teenage whose parents were on vacation, leaving me in charge! The diagnosis came as a complete shock. I always thought that maybe someday I would get cancer; after all, so many of my family members had been through it. But not until I’m older – and certainly not lung cancer! No, I did not want to hear the prognosis, a timeline that I would have to live by. Whatever time he was prepared to give me I politely said, “No thank you”. Inside I wondered who this bearer of bad news thought he was – certainly only God knows how long any of us have.

Since that day I have tried to carry on like a “well-person.” When you are first diagnosed, people try to load you up lots of information and resources. I was only able to handle so much at a time. One of the things I was given was a pamphlet from the American Cancer Society with an 1-800 number on it. I quickly filed it because I only knew that it was a charity asking for donations all the time, but I didn’t know about any of the services. The first chemotherapy I started at the end of December was guaranteed to take my hair. Someone told me that the American Cancer Society offers a free wig to anyone who needs one. As soon as I began clogging the drain with hair each morning, I raced to dig out that pamphlet (fearing I had waited too long!). No sooner than I called that number, I found myself in the American Cancer Society office with a friend trying on wigs – it was actually fun! I was now ready of anything – armed with a really cute wig. That was the fist of many nice services that I learned about. The Look Good...Feel Better class was awesome! I met other ladies going through the same thing; the instructors were knowledgeable and very encouraging. It was a fun afternoon! Later in the year, some friends wanted do a Relay For Life team in my honor. I had never been through such a moving experience in my life! I love the feeling of community and all the love that warms my heart like a blanket of protection.

Despite having chemotherapy treatments just about every three weeks for a year, before starting daily oral chemo, I was able to finish my BA degree and I’m now doing some post-graduate work at Touro University. My students have been a wonderful inspiration to keep doing my very best – they deserve it. This had been an amazing year! My Giants won the World Series and I recently received the honor of being named Vallejo City Unified School District’s Classified Employee of the Year. To top it off, I become Solano County Office of Education’s Classified Employee of the Year!! I’m checking things off my bucket list left and right; I keep adding on new things. This summer I plan my first trip to Hawaii, my step-daughter’s wedding, and my daughter is getting married in August. Of course, our Relay For Life team will be out there again this year – wouldn’t miss it for the world!

It’s been 19 months since the diagnosis, a wonderful 19 months! My family is closer, childhood friendships have been rekindled, and I’ve had lots of fun! At my one year anniversary appointment, my doctor – who I’ve come to admire and trust, was very happy. In order to get the message across to me just how monumental my progress has been, he reminded me of how he offered a prognosis that I refused to hear. He smiled and said that he was going to say – one year. What if I had let him say it? I still have Stage IV NSCLL, but I’m in no worse shape than I started and my life so much richer. I have a wonderful support system with my friends and family, Caringbridge.org, The Wellness Community, awesome healthcare, and of course the American Cancer Society – who gives us support through services and helping people organize themselves to feel more effective and powerful in their fight against this disease. I still have HOPE – we all still have hope!

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Bob Kinzel

Relay For Life of Burbank
Los Angeles Region
"Each day, I celebrate in my battle with cancer, I remember those who we have lost to cancer, and I commit myself to always fighting."
request Bob Kinzel to speak

I first became part of the Relay for Life family in 2006. I had heard about Relay and thought this is something I should be a part of. Well I committed to be at the Burbank Relay For Life for the entire 24 hours. I would show how committed I was to this effort. But unlike cancer that never sleeps, I needed to sleep. But I was pretty proud of my commitment.

I grew up in Burbank, CA. I lived my whole life there, got married, raised my 2 sons there, worked for the city for 40 years. But my wife, Carol, and I had always dreamed of living in the mountains, but never could quite break away from Burbank. Then, finally June 30, 2009, we moved to our dream home in the mountains at Lake Gregory - 5,000 feet, pines trees, a lake, we had finally could live our dream.

During the move it was hot and I took off my shirt. My wife looked at my left nipple and said “what is going on there?” My left nipple was retracting. I said “I don’t know. I am getting fatter and older and everything is beginning to sag.” Well after my wife urging me (nagging me), I finally called the doctor and made an appointment. I showed him my left nipple and explained our concern. He shrugged his shoulders and said “I don’t know, but don’t worry about it.” A month later I went back to my doctor for another issue, and he said to me, “I was doing some inquiring and a retracting nipple is a sign of breast cancer. Don’t worry about it, but I want you to have a mammogram." Not so easy for us guys.

Well a lump was found; a needle biopsy was done and on December 3, 2009. I heard those words that no one wants to hear. You have cancer!
An evasive Ductal Carcinoma
Yes, breast cancer, Yes, I said breast cancer.
I am one of approximately 2,300 men that are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

I am lucky the St. Joseph Breast Center help me get information on breast cancer and every single bit of it referred to her and she. Never he or him. Yes, there is still work to be done.

On January 12, 2010 I had a mastectomy of my left breast. That was followed by 4 rounds of chemotherapy. And today I am cancer free! I am a cancer survivor; that puts me into an exclusive club of amazing people that have beat this horrible disease. We need more survivors; we need to stop this disease that robs us of so very much. We need to kick cancers rear end.

How did I get through my battle with cancer? Four things got me through. My wonderful wife Carol and my two sons Andrew and Benjamin. My job; I worked through my chemo, and that is part of what kept me going. And the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.

I had been to 3 Relays and was the Team Captain of the Burbank Noon Kiwanis Relay Team. I was at a meeting with our Event Chair JP O’Connor, a saint in the community of Burbank. JP asked if I wanted to be the Logistics Chair for the 2010 Relay. Being pretty naïve, and not knowing really what a Logistics Chair does, I said "Yes." Relay kept me going. Relay kept me focused, not wanting to fail. We had a meeting at our site on the afternoon after one of my chemo treatments, and I only had to excuse myself twice to vomit. But I and most other cancer patients need to prove to ourselves and others that we will be OK. Well our Relay arrived May15, 2010. I was busy making sure everything was going smoothly. It was 9:00 pm Saturday evening time for the Luminaria. I looked around the path and there were over 400 luminaria lighting the path. Almost 50 of them in my honor. I made it about 200 ft. before I broke down crying, realizing how blessed I was. Never underestimate the power of Relay. I still today have all those bags hanging in my office to remind me, how much I am loved.
 
During my second round of chemo I met Mary. Mary was 81 years young, she had a smile on her face, and a warm caring personality. Mary had been undergoing chemo treatments for 15 years. She had battled cervical cancer, breast cancer and God knows what other types of cancer, but she was smiling and happy. She was alive.

How could I feel sorry for myself when so many others have gone through so much? I thank God each day for having cancer; it has taught me so much! My life is changed by the experience. But I am one of the lucky ones. Early detection, a beatable cancer, a strong support group, Relay for Life, and the American Cancer Society saved my life.

Each day I celebrate in my and everyone battle with cancer. I remember those we have lost to cancer. I promise to never stop fighting back against this horrible disease that robs us of so much.

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Hazel Knowles

Relay For Life of Union City
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"Today, people diagnosed with cancer have hope."
request Hazel Knowles to speak

My name is Hazel Knowles and my cancer journey began at the age of 29. That was the year I lost my mother to breast cancer. My mom was 51 years young and a mother of three children and a grandmother to four young grandsons. She was a gentle loving woman. She taught me to sew, cook and to enjoy life. She never met her granddaughters but more importantly, they never met her. You see . . . she ignored the early signs of breast cancer.

At age 54, I had my next close and personal journey with cancer. I will never forget the phone call from my doctor's nurse; she said, "The results of your biopsy have arrived and to come in tomorrow morning and make sure my husband came with me." I knew at that moment that I had CANCER! Fear and uncertainty overwhelmed me. I wanted to get as much information as possible before the appointment, so I went to the American Cancer Society's website. I wanted to know what questions to ask and what to expect.

My doctor was very reassuring and said that it was caught very early. Information from the American Cancer Society through the years and the devastating loss of my mother had impressed upon me the importance of early detection. So, because I was diligent with getting regular breast exams, my cancer was caught early and I am now a nine and a half year cancer survivor.

My introduction to Relay For Life came the day after my 37th and last radiation treatment. I have been involved with Relay and cancer-free ever since. Shortly after joining Relay For Life, I adopted two miniature-dachshund pups. They are nine and a half and a tangible reminder of how long I have survived. One of most memorable Relays was when my sister, a skin cancer survivor, and my brother, a prostate cancer survivor, walked with me in the Survivor Lap. Being involved in Relay For Life has filled me with hope. I was feeling like a victim, but my first Relay For Life gave me the hope of a survivor.

Even though I am way past diagnosis, treatment and recovery, having cancer is still very much with me and will forever be a part of who I am. In the 35 years since my mother lost her battle, there have been great strides made in cancer treatment and in the knowledge we have gained. Today, people diagnosed with cancer have hope.

You all have the power to save lives. You can do this by raising money for cancer research. Relay For Life is the primary money raising event for the American Cancer Society. In 2010, the California Division of American Cancer Society allocated more than $19 million to California research institutions. 

So, I challenge each of you to share with at least 2 people each week about "Why You Relay" and what Relay For Life means to you. Then, invite them to join you at Relay For Life. Whether you are a survivor, caregiver, friend or neighbor you all have a story to share.

I Relay in memory of my Mom and in honor of myself, my sister, my brother, and every other survivor. I Relay so that other dads and moms, sons and daughters who hear, "You have cancer" can spell HOPE in many, many different ways. 

But, ultimately HOPE will be spelled CURE.


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Ashley Kritzer

Relay For Life of Palmdale
Border Sierra Region
"I am a better person with a greater understanding of how special life really is. Cancer will always be a part of me; it has made me who I am today."
request Ashley Kritzer to speak

As most children are at age 5, I was a bubbly and happy little girl looking forward to starting kindergarten in the fall. I began feeling unusually tired and my legs had begun to feel weak. Everything in my body had started to hurt. I started to run a low-grade fever and my mom took me to the doctor. There I was checked and had a blood test done. Soon after I was put on iron because I was told I was anemic. My fever had not gone away and I went back to the doctor. I had another blood test and my white blood count was very low. The doctor told my mom that if my fever did not go away in a couple of days to come back. My mom did not wait a couple of days. The next day, I still had a fever and went down to UCLA Hospital to be checked out. At this point my pediatrician did not say I had leukemia. No one ever dreams of a healthy child one minute being diagnosed with a life threatening illness the next.

At UCLA I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I was admitted to the hospital 2 days after my 5th birthday and stayed for a week. I had many procedures done during this time. After my release, I had to go back to UCLA twice a week to start my chemotherapy and had many oral medications to take at home. I learned how to swallow pills at a very early age. My worst memory of my treatment was periodically having to go through a lumbar puncture which is where they take spinal fluid from my back and make sure there is no cancer cells and then they inject the chemo into my spinal column. I was awake for these procedures. My hair was beginning to fall out and soon after I became bald. Being 5 and not having any hair is hard to deal with. Everyone looked at me like I was a freak. I remember one time I was with my dad at the park and I was in a stroller because I was too weak to walk. There was a group of boys who saw me and started to laugh because I had no hair.

In 1999, I attended my first Relay For Life event with a baldhead. I had the best time and I was with people who looked just like me.

I was home schooled for the first 4 months, and when I was finally able to go to school for the first time my dad walked me in. He introduced me and told everyone in the kindergarten class that I had cancer. It was hard to make friends because they did not want to be friends with the sick girl. I made one true best friend who stood by me and used to go home crying because I was being made fun of.

After 2 years of chemotherapy, I was declared cancer free. In 2002, I had the fortune through the Make A Wish Foundation to meet my idle Shania Twain.  Having cancer really changed the way I view life. I am so lucky to be here today to share my story with all of you. My family was my support system. They never gave up on me. My mom slept on a hospital chair when I was in the hospital. My dad is a huge supporter in the Relay For Life. That is our day together! My dad got an award from the American Cancer Society for raising the most money to fight cancer. I would not have been able to fight as hard as I did without them by my side. I am now 11 years cancer free and I feel even though I had to go through a tough journey, I am a better person with a greater understanding of how special life really is. I hope to pursue my dream of becoming a nurse and thereby helping others the way in which I was helped. I am now a typical 17 years old girl who loves to be with my friends and enjoy life. Cancer will always be a part of me; it has made me who I am today.

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Brittany Magno

Relay For Life of Santa Clarita
Los Angeles Region
"I want to do my part, so that one day, not one person would have to go through what I and my family have."
request Brittany Magno to speak

It was Thursday, March 29, 2007, when my mother picked me up from school. I was a 6th grade student at Sulphur Springs Elementary School. I could tell that she had been crying, and when we arrived home, my father was there. I could tell that he had been crying, too.

My parents told me that the CAT SCAN that they had done the day before, revealed something in my brain, that shouldn’t be there. We immediately went to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, where I was examined by a surgeon, who informed my parents of my condition.

When we got home that night, my parents told me that there was a growth in my brain that needed to be taken out. They told me that they would be there every step of the way and that they would never leave my side.

At the age of 11, I was diagnosed with brain cancer, a Pure-Cell Germinoma, lodged in the 4th ventricle of my brain, the area responsible for all my senses.

Weeks prior to my diagnosis I wasn’t able to walk in a straight line without falling. I would have episodes of gagging; but the worst of it all, I was suffering from painful headaches. Headaches so severe that it would put me to tears, practically every single day and night. It was for these reasons that my mother took me to my doctor, who ordered the CAT SCAN and immediately sent it to Children’s Hospital.

It was an aggressive tumor that had developed and grown to the size of an eyeball in just a matter of weeks.

Within a few days I went into surgery to remove a good portion of the tumor lodged in my brain. The outer ring of the tumor was left still attached as to not jeopardize any damage to that sensitive area. I went through a 2nd surgery to place a Port-Catheter in my upper left chest area for easier access while I received Chemotherapy over a 3 week period. Radiation Therapy immediately followed the completion of Chemo to remove the rest of the Pure-Cell Germinoma left behind.

Since this tumor greatly affected my senses physical therapy was very challenging. It was difficult to go through normal transitions that you take for granted everyday. I would collapse from just trying to get up from a normal sitting position. I could not easily go out the front door without being blinded by the sunlight. Our house had to be kept at a constant 68 degrees, 24 hours a day.  Any noise louder than a casual conversation would pierce my ears. 

Yah, picture that, an 11 year old kid telling her parents to keep the noise down.

Hey, it wasn’t so bad; it got me out of doing a lot of chores and I didn’t have to do any vacuuming for a good long time.

I missed the last 2 months of my 6th grade year but had good enough grades to be able to graduate with my class in the midst of my Chemotherapy Sessions.

And even when I missed almost all of my confirmation classes due to Radiation Therapy, I was able to get confirmed along with my Confirmation Class.
     
I attended Sierra Vista Junior High School for 2 years with Medical Restrictions...but graduated with Honors.

Prior to attending Canyon High School, my doctor was confident enough to lift all my physical restrictions. This was very important to me. Before I was diagnosed with brain cancer, I was very active in gymnastics and cheerleading. I talked to my parents and with their support I tried out and made the Canyon High School Freshman Cheerleading Squad.

I was also awarded an Academic Letter for achieving above a 3.7 Grade Point Average for my Freshman Year.

Weeks and months of continued labwork, bloodwork, MRIs, audiology, evaluations and studies were closely monitored to make sure that the tumor was completely eradicated.

Yes, I can joyfully say that as of now, there is no sign of any existing tumor left in my brain.

I am now 15, a sophomore, and this time, a member of the Canyon High School Junior Varsity Cheerleading Squad.     

In 2007, in the midst of my treatments, a very good friend of the family named Heather Warrick (many of you may know her as the “Cancer Princess”) invited me and my family to Relay For Life.  Even though I needed assistance, I made it around the park during the Luminaria Ceremony.

From there on, I have attended Relay For Life every single year. And this time I have my own team called “Brittany’s Brigade.” 

This team was formed, because we wanted to make a difference. We wanted to do our part, so that one day, not one person would have to go through what me and my family went through.

This is why I Relay, and this is why every single one of you is here today. Together, we can put an end to cancer, and celebrate more birthdays.


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Natalie McQueen

Relay For Life of Mountain View
Silicon Coastal Region
"I don’t look at life the same way; never on the sidelines."
request Natalie McQueen to speak

My introduction to cancer came about when I was in elementary school.  I walked in the house one day to find my mom sobbing and when I asked her what was wrong she dried her tears and told me that my grandmother was just diagnosed with cancer. I was shocked but my mom, through her red, puffy eyes somehow convinced me that Grandma was going to be okay. When I was in middle school my mom and dad called me into the living room and sat me down to tell me that my mom had just been diagnosed with the same kind of cancer that Grandma had. Again, they made an effort to make me believe that everything was going to be alright. 

A few years after that my grandmother died from her cancer. And six months later, my own mother was killed by her cancer. The last picture ever taken of my mother was a small Polaroid that my dad took of her while she was laughing. I have that picture, now framed, sitting on my bedside table. Of course, I didn’t know it was going to be the last picture of her and when I look at it now, I see the swollen lymph nodes in her neck and know what they portend. 

Twenty-five years later I was sitting on my couch and brushed my hand across my neck and felt a lump. Instantly I know what it meant. So in June of 2006 I was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma, a very similar type of cancer to what my mom and grandmother had. I knew that I was going to die, even though I presumed that a lot of research had been done in the intervening years. But between you and me, deep down, I didn’t have much hope. 

The first thing you learn about Follicular Lymphoma when you Google it is that it is slow growing (yeah!) but incurable (ugh). I quickly learned to stop Googling it and appointed a friend to be Chief Googler. She was the one who did all of my research for me and then told me what she learned without putting in all of the scary statistics. 

I ended up having chemo for six months and that stuff didn’t agree with me very well. I became sicker than expected and spent a lot of time in bed. The only highlight from that entire time, that I can remember, is when the Chief Googler came and picked me up and took me to a Look Good...Feel Better program. I walked into the room, pretty nervous, not sure what I was going to find. What I discovered was a room full of bald women who were there to learn scalp care and make-up tips and who knew how to laugh. I don’t specifically remember what we laughed about, I just remember laughing a lot that day, I think because I could feel comfortable and be myself. 

According to the Chief Googler, the average remission for Follicular Lymphoma is two years. Imagine my horror when they found a tumor growing in my left groin at my three month scan. This terrified me so much that I had a hard time thinking about it. I ended up sinking into a depression mixed with extreme anxiety that made me unpleasant to live with. 

About this time I saw an blurb in the local paper inviting all cancer survivors to come to something called Relay For Life, and if you came, you got a free t-shirt. Well, you didn’t have to ask me twice. I showed up, put my purple shirt on, and milled about waiting for the survivor lap to start. I didn’t feel much like a survivor but I figured that this lap was something I had to participate in in order to get the shirt. While I was waiting, my husband ran into a woman who he used to work with. The last time he had seen her she was going through chemo and he was pleased to see her again. He introduced me to her and I noticed that she looked completely normal. It was so nice to see someone bounce back after treatment.  Meeting her that day did give me a glimmer of hope - that maybe there could be life after cancer. 

My doctors kept an eye on that tumor in my groin and eventually decided that it was starting to grow faster and that made them nervous so they took it out to biopsy it. My oncologist pointed her skinny finger at me and stressed that this was not going to cure me of my cancer. They were taking it out just to see if my lymphoma had transformed - a bad thing. The results from that biopsy showed that it was the same old kind of lymphoma that I had been dealing with all along so that was the good news.

I kept having scans after that but they didn’t show any tumors anywhere. I was terrified before each scan but the results were always the same - clear. My scans became less and less frequent and eventually my oncologist told me that she was surprised that I still appeared cancer-free.

I was invited to a breakfast given to honor doctors who have received money from the American Cancer Society to do research and like all American Cancer Society events, one of those doctors got up to give a speech. She was from Stanford and she studied lymphoma. She said that day, as I ate my rubber eggs and drank the tepid coffee, that they now believe that lymphoma has stem cells and if you can kill the stem cells then you can cure the lymphoma. Everything stopped. I’d never heard the c-word used with my kind of cancer. “Cure.” I didn’t know how to even think about this. I now believe that the tumor that started growing in my groin contained the stem cells for my cancer and they removed them when they took that node out to biopsy it. I believe that I am cured of my cancer. The fear, terror, depression, and anxiety that lived with me for all of those years is gone. 

I know that the American Cancer Society didn’t cure my cancer but they played a huge role in saving my life.

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Shea Neely

Relay For Life of San Jacinto
Border Sierra Region
"Through Relay I have been able to realize I have a purpose, to help others with their journey."
request Shea Neely to speak

I was a typical teenager. I loved hanging out with my friends. I was involved in sports and many after school activities. Several weeks before Christmas break, I remember looking through my mother’s closet one night, trying to find a costume for a theme-based day at school. While trying on clothes, I looked down at my leg and noticed a large lump on my hip. Freighted and confused, I ran to my mom crying and asking what was on my leg. Her confusion was evident as she had no answer but assured me that we would ask the doctor what it was. Recently, I had had routine knee surgery for a torn cartilage and had a follow up visit coming up.

As the doctor’s appointment, my mother casually asked the doctor to look at the lump we found on my hip. Not sure what the lump was, he sent me for an x-ray.  After a brief look at the x-ray the doctor became very serious and said that we needed to get it check out right away. Puzzled, my mother and I were trying to figure out what he was saying. He said it looks like cancer and you need to get it checked immediately. My mother looked at the doctor and said, “If you are trying to scare me, you are doing a great job.” I remember vividly walking out of that office and into the parking lot, towards the car. I looked at my mother in shock and bewilderment and began to cry my eyes out.

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Peggy Osterhout

Relay For Life of Poway
Border Sierra Region
"I hope this coming generation doesn’t have to know the grief that cancer has caused."
request Peggy Osterhout to speak

My name is Peggy Osterhout. I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a grandmother and a friend. I am also a caregiver, and three year ago I became cancer survivor. My journey with cancer didn’t start three years ago; it started 23 years ago, in 1988.

I didn’t know much about cancer in 1988. I never did any research on it. I didn’t have to; it didn’t have anything to do with me. Or so I thought. My whole world changed in the summer of 1988 when I got a call from my brother, Kevin, telling me he had throat cancer. Cancer! How can that be? He just went to the doctor because he had a sore throat that wouldn’t go away. Even with his diagnosis I still didn’t know the devastation that little word “cancer” would have on my family and me. My brother struggled for years with cancer, but in 2002 he lost that battle.

In 1994 I lost my son-in-law to melanoma cancer. He died one year after his diagnosis. He was 33 years old, and left behind a 3 ½ year old daughter, my granddaughter, Allie.

Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. In May of 2006, I lost my Dad to lung and brain cancer. In August, I lost my sister, Pam, to ovarian cancer. They died three months apart.

I was so sad and heartbroken, but more than that, I was angry. So angry. I knew I needed to do something. I need to put this anger into something constructive to change how I was feeling.

That’s when I saw an article in my local newspaper about the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. I figured I would go to the meeting and see what I could do. Things like stuffing envelopes, making phone calls. You know, that sort of thing. I left the meeting being Survivor Chair.

And so it began. ACS and Relay became my saving grace. I was totally into Relay and into hearing and learning about all the services that ACS provides for cancer patients and their families. I was doing well!

Then, my annual mammogram came up. It had been two years since the last one. I wasn’t worried about breast cancer. I was worried about ovarian cancer. The test didn’t look very good so I went for a biopsy. I still wasn’t worried. I really thought there wasn’t any way that this was going to happen to me. But, it did.
I was in Costco, spending way too much money, when my doctor called. She asked me if I could talk. I knew that wasn’t a good question. So, I went to a corner in Costco and she told me. Breast Cancer. My first reaction was, “Great, what will I do with all these groceries?”  My second reaction was “This can’t be happening again.”

I needed a lumpectomy and radiation. I knew the cancer world, and now it was my turn with the rounds of doctor appointments and treatments. After my operation, I waited a month to start radiation. For 7 ½ weeks, five days a week, I drove 25 miles one way for treatment. At the end, I was burnt and very tired, but it was nothing compared to what my siblings, my Dad, and my son-in-law went through. During the time of my treatments, my cousin, Tom, was going through treatments for pancreatic cancer. We talked a lot about life, and family and “the never give up attitude.” Unfortunately, my cousin did not survive, but he never gave up.

I survived because of a mammogram. We all have to be very proactive about our own health. If something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t right. I am three years cancer free, and I feel blessed each day.

Cancer affects us all in one way or another. Whether you are a cancer survivor or a caregiver, you need people to help you get through the tough times. That is what I try to do. I try to help people who, like me, have been deeply burned by this disease. I want to give back to the community that saved me.

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Terri Rowitz

Relay For Life of Lancaster
Border Sierra Region
"I was lost and did know where to turn. The American Cancer Society provided me with the guidance to help me through my journey."
request Terri Roqitz to speak

My story is simple. I am a two time kidney cancer survivor and fortunate to be alive today thanks to early detection and continued screenings. I never once thought I'd hear the words, "You have cancer," let alone twice in my life. My journey started shortly after the birth of my daughter. I noticed a lump in my back and went to the doctor to get it checked and found out I had a small cyst on my kidney. My doctor assured me it was nothing and life was good. Two years later after the birth of my son I noticed the lump was still there, only now it was a lot bigger. I thought maybe something was left inside of me from the c-section or there was another kid left inside of me. In my heart I knew something was just not right. Again I went to the doctor and found out that this was not another kid and they did not leave something in me; it was a huge tumor on my kidney and it needed to come out. After surgery, my doctor told me those dreaded words... "You have cancer," but what I heard instead was "You are going to die."

I remember being scared, frustrated and angry and did not know where to turn. The American Cancer Society provided me with the guidance to help me through my journey and was my road to recovery. They were there for me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They were my source for information and strength and I felt like I was not fighting cancer alone.

I walked my first Relay For Life in 1996 and it was that day I realized I was going to be ok... after all there were hundreds of survivors walking that first lap. They were moms and dads, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors. They were young and old and, most of all, many of them were long time survivors which only gave me HOPE. I have been participating in Relay now for the past 16 years and am honored to have been selected as a Hero of Hope for the American Cancer Society this year.

You see, I am the lucky one in all this. I did not have to go through chemo or radiation like most cancer patients have to endure because of early detection and continued screenings. I remember not wanting to go to my 6 year screening because I thought I was cured. My doctor urged me to continue my annual screenings and it was at year 6 that I found out I had kidney cancer again, this time on the other kidney. Had I not followed my doctor's request, who knows where I would be today!

Most people today have some connection with cancer. Whether it be as a survivor, a caregiver or if you have lost a loved one we are all here for one reason and that is to find a cure! At Relay For Life, we come together to CELEBRATE the lives of those who are battling cancer ... and to REMEMBER those who have lost their battle to the disease ... and to FIGHT BACK so that one day cancer will be eliminated.  The American Cancer Society and Relay For Life is CREATING A WORLD WITH MORE BIRTHDAYS and less cancer!! Early detection saves lives ... I am living proof!  Let's continue this fight and remember there is no finish line until we find a cure! 


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Cathy Stevens

Relay For Life of Covina
Los Angeles Region
"As I walked that lap I remembered all of my experiences with cancer."
request Cathy Stevens to speak

My journey began in September 2009. I was getting ready for bed, crossed my arms and felt a pea-sized lump on my left breast. I was a bit surprised and wondered, “What is that?” Never did “breast cancer” come to mind. I mean, nobody in my family had ever had it.

I finally made an appointment because my husband kept nagging and I was a year late for my mammogram. I thought, “I’m only 45 so it’s ok if I’m late.” I fit a physical into my schedule and my doctor ordered a ultrasound. My husband went on his “guy trip” and I went for an ultrasound. I still didn’t think “cancer.” When the doctor came back in and asked, “How soon can you come in for a biopsy?” and I heard her tell the nurse to make sure I got scheduled within a week, I knew! I left that day with an appointment to return the next morning. At that point I wasn’t too surprised to hear, “If it is cancer, it’s very small and early.”

The next couple of days were foggy. I had to wait until Monday to have my results. I remember being very anxious all day so when my phone rang and I was driving to my daughter’s game I had to answer. I asked him to wait while I parked and he said, “Yes, that’s a good idea. I want your feet on the ground when I tell you.” I still have mixed emotions about that comment, but it is what it is. He said the biopsy was malignant breast cancer and he repeated that it was very small and very early and he was surprised I felt it. The next few months were a whirlwind of finding doctors, consultations and tests, all the while trying to keep normalcy at home for the sake of my 3 children.

Surgery went well; lymph node tests were negative, genetic tests were negative and radiation was about to begin. At that point, I learned that they didn’t get clear margins with surgery and there was no more tissue to remove, the cancer had gone to my chest wall. That’s when chemotherapy came into the treatment. I was told that I would lose my long hair and that made me cry. I had to look at the “half-full” part of the glass. I gave my tail to Locks of Love and tried another short hair-do thinking all the while that if I hated it, I wouldn’t have to live with it long. No hair meant shorter showers, less shampoo, less leg shaving and no mascara!

It wasn’t always easy. I got real tired of “pink” everything. But I still managed to be PTA president and volunteer at 3 schools. I continued working which brought awareness to many of the kids. It was important to me for them to see strength in a cancer fight so that if it ever affected them, they would remember that I did it, so can they.

At the end of my treatment I was asked to walk in a Survivor lap at a local Relay For Life. I was immediately swept up in the excitement of “making a difference.”  I wanted this in my community. I wanted my community to experience what it is to celebrate cancer survival and remember those lost. As I walked that lap, I remembered all of my experiences with cancer. Not just my own but my cousin, who had Hodgkin’s Disease during her high school years. My grandfather, who battled liver and bone cancer and lost. My grandmother who beat ovarian cancer only to be taken by lung cancer. My best friend, who fought uterine cancer. My other friend, who, at that moment, was having a fight with pancreatic cancer and soon lost, leaving 2 teenage daughters behind. To my high school sweetheart whose body was scarred from the removal of 35 moles because of malignant melanoma. Unfortunately I can go on and on. This is what I thought about as I planned to bring Relay For Life to my community. The American Cancer Society provides services for those in need, support and answers for survivors and caregivers and funds for research, the likes of which I am benefitting from with my particular cancer. Without the work of the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life we wouldn’t be where we are at in cancer awareness and support.

I Relay because I want to Celebrate more survivors and to Fight Back against this dreaded disease so we don’t have so many to Remember who have lost their fight.

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Jill Thompson

Relay For Life of Half Moon Bay
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I believe that mammogram saved my life."
request Jill Thompson to speak

In early 2009 I hadn’t been feeling like my usual self and was really tired all the time; I just had no energy at all. During my doctor’s appointment my doctor found a lump in my left breast and scheduled a mammogram. I still remember the radiologist kept taking more and more images of my right breast instead of the left one. I didn’t think they were confused; I just had a feeling that something was wrong. The lump on my left breast turned out to be just a lump. But the biopsy results showed that I had breast cancer in my right breast.

And my whole world changed. I began treatment and surgery was scheduled. I didn’t know what was in store for me. For me the worst time was before the upcoming surgery, in the middle of the night, at home with the big scary cancer monsters lurking under my bed just waiting to get me. I felt like a scared little kid. I wish I’d known then that the American Cancer Society has a 24-hour hotline (1-800-227-2345). There’s always a friendly, human voice that answers the phone day or night. Whether to chase away the cancer monsters or give out information about treatment or services for patients. I could have really used that reassurance.

I figured I’d maybe be less scared if I got more information besides what the oncologists had told me so I went to the bookstore and bought every single book about breast cancer that I could find. (For me, if one book is good, twenty are better.) Then I called the American Cancer Society so that I could get even more literature, and they mentioned that there was an upcoming Relay For Life where I live. I remembered going to one years ago with a friend who was a survivor. I hadn’t thought about that Relay in years, but ended up postponing my surgery for a couple of weeks so that I could go to that Relay and walk my first Survivor Lap, four days before my first surgery, because I didn’t know if that would be my only chance.

Two of my survivor friends walked that lap arm in arm with me. I was slow, they were patient, it was tiring but it gave me this indescribable feeling – the feeling of hope.

After my surgeries I had six weeks of radiation, five days a week. Then I got something in the mail about the next Relay For Life and I went to their next meeting and joined the committee, not having any idea what I was doing but doing it anyway. Anything to help end cancer.

I believe that mammogram saved my life, as nobody was ever able to feel or to see my cancer. By the time it would have been noticeable it may have been too late. I’m one of the lucky ones because I’m still here today. I always make and keep my doctor appointments, and nag everyone that I know to get their checkups.

Early detection saves lives. I’m proof.

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Amy Tuleen

Relay For Life of Newark
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I don’t want anyone ever to have to go through what I did."
request Amy Tuleen to speak

March 9, 2007, I awoke from an exploratory surgery to my doctor, who was crying. She told me that I had non-operable aggressive Stage IIb cervical cancer.  My response was, "OK, what do I need to do?" She handed me a list of appointments with oncologists and radiologists, for PET and CT scans and blood work.

One of the first things I did was contact the American Cancer Society to gather information to educate myself about cancer treatment. We’ve all heard the stories – I needed to really learn about what to expect. The Resource Specialist told me about all of the different services the American Cancer Society offers. From the “Look Good, Feel  Better” classes to cancer survivor pen pals to mileage reimbursement. Thank God for the mileage reimbursement – during 2007 over 3000 miles were driven, mostly by my Mom, to take me to and from appointments and treatments. I’d rather have driven that 3000 miles to New York!

Before I could even begin treatment, I had to get healthy (kind of an oxymoron) – by gaining weight and having blood transfusions. Receiving healthy blood is an amazing gift. Thank you. I had a team of doctors from Kaiser, UCSF and Stanford. After five weeks of treatment planning, CTs and appointments, I began six weeks of Brachytherapy, IMRT radiation and chemotherapy. Sounds scary, huh? Brachytherapy is internal radiation. For me, the Brachytherapy was a weekly surgery. The first time I had it, I walked into the operating room and almost passed out when I saw the table full of tools. Every week after that, the needles and tools were covered up with a blanket!

IMRT radiation is a very precise external radiation that targets a very specific spot. The doctors were concerned about radiation causing irreversible damage to my intestines because I have colitis.

The chemo I received is called Cisplatinum. Now, you don’t get to choose the chemo drug, but my doctor was really excited (if that’s the right word) because I work in a hair salon and Cisplatinum doesn’t cause hair loss; however, it does cause serious nausea.

Throughout treatment I had several more blood transfusions, emergency room visits and lost over 10 pounds. I projectile vomited like Stan on Southpark. I put mustard on everything I ate, including mashed potatoes, because all food tasted like metal and apparently mustard cancels metal! Could be a new marketing strategy! I became addicted to Ativan, a tranquilizer.

Thanks to amazing doctors and these huge advancements in treatment, I came through with minor damage outside the tumor area. This is the teary part - Thanks to my wonderful family and friends who stood by me through this experience. My family’s lives stopped for me; my Mom chauffeured me, cared for me and sat with me through eight hour chemo sessions. My Dad visited the gynecologist for the first time. I think he learned things he could have lived without ever knowing! And my Sister attended every doctor appointment with me. She still does. My buddy Kevin sat with me through transfusions without passing out. Barely. My roommate and friends kept me company and took great care of me. And my boyfriend waited patiently for me.

Had I been diagnosed even just 10 years ago, I probably wouldn’t be here with you today. The advanced, state of the art treatment I received didn’t exist then.  I’m very lucky.

Twenty months later, I had a reoccurrence and started all of this again.

I don't want sympathy. The reason I’m sharing this with you is because cancer really sucks. I don’t want anyone ever to have to go through what I did. Or worse. Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, weight loss, and being afraid that they’re going to die. And feeling like they’re going to die. Or actually dying. I want to scare you into taking care of yourself.

I’m lucky. Not everyone is. Three friends of mine lost their fight in the past year alone.

We’re all here for the same reasons –awareness, raise money to help people through their experience and to fund research. But most importantly, to prevent and cure cancer so none of you are ever standing where I am.

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Dave Wesley

Relay For Life of El Dorado County
Great Valley Region
"We all remember significant dates in our lives, births, marriages, children, national events. But survivors remember another date, emblazoned forever in our memories."
request Dave Wesley to speak

January 14, 1994. We all remember significant dates in our lives, births, marriages, children, national events. But survivors remember another date, emblazoned forever in our memories. January 14, 1994. That’s my date. In the morning I was feeling normal, it didn’t “feel” like anything was wrong. By the afternoon I was feeling like I’d undergone a Radical Retropubic Nerve-Sparing Prostatectomy. For a very good reason.

My Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the mid 1970’s. I remember all the emotions, pain, joys, setbacks, victories and ultimately loss as he lost his battle with cancer in 1980 at the young age of 57. My wife, Jane, started donating regularly to the American Cancer Society and signed up to be a driver to take patients to their treatments. She was driving on the Road to Recovery when it was still more of a goat-path.  

I started going in for screenings at age 40. It was well-known that family association plays a role in the incidence of prostate cancer, especially in younger men. The screening tool of the PSA test available to me was not available to my Dad, by the way. At age 42 the doctors found something suspicious. Biopsy revealed early stage multi-focal prostate cancer. You can imagine my emotions. And my wife’s. All the memories of my Dad’s disease flooded back. All the possibilities, all the missed opportunities, all the…but then we decided to get focused. We got information from a variety of sources, including the American Cancer Society. We researched at the medical libraries, talked to doctors, got five second opinions, then partnered with the doctors on the course of treatment. 

January 14, 1994. The date of my surgery. By the way, this surgery wasn’t available to my Dad, having been invented in the 1980’s. Today I’m a 17 year survivor. I’m convinced it is due in part to my diligence in pursuing early detection, so I’ll give myself credit for that. But it is also due to advances in screening with the advent of the PSA test, to improvements in surgery, to advancements in medical knowledge – all of which come about with a commitment to research. 

Today I am serving on one of 19 American Cancer Society Committees that review research grants twice a year. My team, which focuses on Cancer Cell Growth, is composed of a dozen and a half scientists and two stakeholders. We might get up to 50 or so grant requests each cycle. Each request is thoroughly evaluated by two scientists, then discussed in detail during out two-day meeting. Each request is then ranked, and sent to a final evaluation committee along with the ranked requests from the other 18 committees. The good news is we only fund the best of the best. Out of our 50 requests there might be 3 or 4 that get funded. The bad news is that there are another half dozen or more that are worth being funded, but are not for lack of resources. And you can multiply that by 19 because each committee has similar experiences.

Why do I Relay? I Relay to save lives, to show support, and most of all, along with you, to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. 

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Jeannie West

Relay For Life of El Centro
Border Sierra Region
"A cancer diagnosis in not a death sentence. It is a reason to Fight Back!"
request Jeannie West to speak

I am an 18 year cancer survivor of breast cancer. My personal journey with breast cancer began when I was 45 years old. However, this was not my first experience with breast cancer. My mother was diagnosed when she was 46. At the time I was 23 and pregnant with my second child. Over the years my mom had several relapses and I became her advocate and the last 3 years of her life I was her caregiver.

In 2001, my dear friend Retta Wilson asked me to attend a reception for Survivors at Relay For Life. I was hesitant but went. My life has never been the same. I Relayed the next year and, after that Relay, I shared with my experience with my mom. She said we would do it together the next year, but mom didn’t survive; she passed away a week before Relay. I Relayed for her that year and have done so ever since.

My mom used the services of the American Cancer Society, but I never really understood the message of the American Cancer Society.

When I was diagnosed my husband turned to the American Cancer Society for support and then began our journey.

I have served and continue to serve with pleasure, as a legislative ambassador, a member of the Community Leadership Council, the Executive Relay committee, Reach to Recovery. 

For me, the American Cancer Society has been a shelter in the time of storm, a comfort in the time of fear, a solace in the time of loneliness and information in the time of need. It has been somewhere to turn when I needed someone to help me navigate the cancer journey.

The American Cancer Society has helped me put on the armor of knowledge to fight the battle and given me a message to share: “A cancer diagnosis in not a death sentence it is a reason to Fight Back”!

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Laura Baldini
Relay For Life of Redwood City
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I realized I have a lot. Each day is a gift, to be taken to heart. Each birthday is a big deal."
request Laura Baldini to speak

It was late May in 1996, when I was stepping into the shower and noticed an odd look to the skin on my breast. I could see that something was wrong and I gave myself a self-exam. It wasn’t difficult to find the lump in my breast. The next day I called my OBGYM. They said to come right in. She also easily found the lump hidden behind the nipple of my breast. She assured me I was too young for it to be cancer and not to worry, but…she did send me over for a base line mammogram and an ultrasound. The mammogram was clear, but the ultrasound send the technician running for her boss. They couldn’t say anything except, “The doctor will call you” and she did, that night at dinnertime she called to say the ultrasound showed the lump was bad and I needed to come in first thing in the morning. The next day from the doctor’s office they called a surgeon and made an appointment for the next day. They did a needle biopsy, and we waited. Well, we waited and waited and it seemed that they had lost my results. They finally turned up and they were inconclusive. They wanted to do another needle biopsy. I really didn’t want to go through the needle through the nipple thing again and end up without results again. It felt like the lump was growing and it was. I said go in and take out whatever you need. I had a biopsy and my husband started to take me home, but we only made it as far as the park next to the hospital. That’s where he told me that the surgeon was pretty sure it was cancer, and that they were going to have to take it all. Through the whole whirlwind of finding, diagnosis, biopsy, it all felt so unreal. I felt fine. I looked fine. How could I be sick?

So, at 35 I had surgery to remove my cancer, it was growing and it was aggressive. I don’t know how I managed to have 10 clear lymph nodes, with such a large tumor. I was staged three, due to the size of the growth and it’s aggressiveness. I chose the oncologist who was not as aggressive. He was in touch with some researchers in Berkeley and they were going to give me four doses of anriomyicin and cytoxin.  I was going to lose my hair, that was so much more difficult that I thought it would be, but I bought some great scarves from a brain cancer survivor. I had my four doses, starting right before school got back in. That year I had a child in my class with leukemia, and we went to the same infusion center. We went bald together and we both survived.

But, the story had a miracle at the end. Three years after my cancer I had a beautiful, totally unexpected baby boy!

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Bushra Biviji
Relay For Life of Tustin
Orange County Region
"I Relay to give back the support the American Cancer Society gave me when I needed it. Relay For Life gave me hope."
request Bushra Biviji to speak

In February of 2006 I woke up in the middle of the night feeling nauseous and sick. I felt severe abdominal pain the following day and then finally in the evening my husband and I decided to go to the emergency room. For the next couple of weeks, I went through a series of tests. I had an ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI and then finally an open needle biopsy. What was to come next was the diagnosis that changed my life. I was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

I had a tumor in my left kidney that was removed by laparoscopic surgery. Initially I was told I would have the surgery and then would be back to normal. There was no sign of the cancer spreading. The surgery was to last about 2 hours.

I had the surgery, but instead it lasted 5 hours. And after I regained consciousness I was told that the tumor had been removed but unfortunately 2 lymph nodes were found positive for cancer. It has spread. And now I was told I had stage 4 cancer. I found out that the 5 year survival rate of kidney cancer in stage 4 was only 5%.

I was shocked. I thought I would be done with cancer by now. But instead that is the point that I realized that I was not forever going to be a cancer patient. This was probably on of the darkest moments of my life.

I met with an oncologist in the hospital. He told me because the cancer had spread I would have to go on chemotherapy pills. There was a new pill that just got approved and that I would probably need to be on it for life.

So I started the pills. As the days passed, the side effects started showing up. I had hand and food syndrome, which made it hard for me to walk. I felt fatigue like I have never felt before. I loft my taste buds. I had stomach problems. The list goes on and on.

However, as time went by, I learned to take different things for the different side effects. I came to a livable place.

And I think that is something I have learned from this cancer. First everything seems horrible. But slowly with the help of modern medicine, faith and will power you can really get through just about anything.

This month marks the 4 year anniversary of me being cancer free. 2 months ago my oncologist and I decided that since there is no cancer showing that I can go off the chemotherapy medicine. I have been off it since February. I feel great!

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Patricia Brown
Relay For Life of Cupertino
Silicon Coastal Region
"Relay has become part of what I do and who I am. After 4 years, I am sitll getting back more than I give to Relay."
request Patricia Brown to speak

I don’t have the typical heart wrenching Cancer story with the horrors of Chemo or Radiation.  My story began in early 2005 with a trip to the doctor for my regular physical.  As usual I felt great and it was just another annoyance to keep an appointment that I hated.

The doctor looked at the tests completed in advance, checked me over and said ‘everything looks great’.  As I waiting to get dressed he said “see you next year”, put his hand on my shoulder and said “have you ever noticed this bump on your neck”?  That was the beginning of my Cancer Journey!

A week later I visited an Ear, Nose, Throat doctor, he examined the bump and said it didn’t feel like a tumor but he wanted to do a biopsy just to be safe.  Since the bump was so tiny we opted to remove the entire bump and send it for the biopsy.
 
Friday morning there was a message on my phone saying that I needed to make an appointment with an Oncologist.  I thought oh they must have dialed a wrong number! 

I called the office and told them about the mistake and said I don’t have cancer.  I gave my chart # and she transferred me to right the doctor’s assistant.  When I asked why the transfer she said ‘Oh my god’ Mrs. Brown, I am so sorry, the receptionist called you and didn’t know the Dr. was called to emergency hasn’t contacted you yet.  He will call as soon as possible!

The 1 ½ hours I sat holding the phone seemed like an eternity, I kept thinking I’m not sick; how could I have cancer.  Dr. called & said those 3 awful words that turn your entire life into ciaos!  He said the tumor was malignant; but, too small to determine the type. 

I hung up & started shaking uncontrollably as I sunk to the floor thinking “how can I have cancer, no one in my family ever had cancer”.  Our family had diabetes & heart disease.  Then reality set in; I cried for what seemed like an eternity.  I decided not tell my family until I knew what I was dealing with.  So I called my 2 best friends; we talked and cried for hours but we got through it.

During the Holidays I noticed swelling by my ear, my PCP thought it was just a minor issue with my ear.  2 weeks later it was larger; I saw my Oncologist who opted to remove it for biopsy which showed it as Follicular Lymphoma; Non-Hodgkin’s, non-aggressive cancer.  A PET scan found 2 tumors in my stomach.

After talking with my Oncologist and reading all the information I could find at ACS we decided it was safe to be on a watch list, with tests every 3 months, than 4 & currently 6 month intervals.  There has been no change in the last 5+ years.  For this I am very grateful!

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Monica Cervantes
Relay For Life of Hawthorne
Los Angeles Region
"I Relay to give back to the Society for how generous they have been to me and do what strangers did for me, and to raise funds for others that might need any type of service." 
request Monica Cervantes to speak

My name is Monica Cervantes and I’m happy to be alive. I am a breast cancer survivor of 6years. I was blessed with this Cancer journey experience…..the reason for me saying this ….I would not be here today…and would not have met all my friends I have now. Thru this journey I have met hundreds of young women affected by cancer as young as 17yrs old …

I have gone thru 10 rounds of chemotherapy weekly herceptin for a yr. and 8 surgical procedures with many more to come…. Sure you might look at me and think my life is complete a girl who has everything….and never been sick or look sick and really the question I’m sure ….who am I…..?

The biggest thing that sadden me was loosing my hair, as you might not know this but I used to spend a lot of time making love to my hair…My hair was what made me look attractive….at least that’s what I thought…. After loosing my hair I came to realize that my hair wasn’t what  made me…..once my hair was gone, what really do I have ….after loosing my breast double mastectomy and eyebrows what really did I have left,  ….after loosing  my job being on LOA what really did I have …..and after loosing my sense of direction as we cancer patient know it as chemo brain …you forget what it was you said a minute ago….. Why go on ….and after loosing my health insurance what really …did I have…..

I asked my self this questions every night…for 10 months and will sometimes asked why should I continue on….What is my purpose in life?…… my attitude towards life became the fuel energy to live… I often get asked why I Relay for life…..My Reason to Relay is to keep high school students aware that cancer does not discriminate it has no age nor color and to recognize the early sign of this disease and the need to take care of ourselves growing up and eating healthy and exercising. By spreading the word that the American Cancer is here to help 24-7 just like they were able to help me... raise funds and awareness.  I thought cancer is something you get at age 50 or 60 but now day’s women are being diagnosed at an early age 20, 30, and 40. At age 32 and being a single mom I had to experience chemotherapy...and being that I was sole independent and always did things on my own...I had to depend on my family and my care giver for help. With my son on my side he always kept me smiling. At night when the nights felt so long with the will of giving up I had this picture of my son and me at the beach holding hands that kept me strong. I knew we needed each other and pray to god if he let me live I will do thing’s a lot different, take each day one day at a time and do for others as I have found friends, strangers & family do for me.

This is my purpose …in life….I will take the time to be happy and will leave my footprints and my presence in the hearts of others by serving my community and being the voice of young women who have lost the battle due to cancer.

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Lisa Collodi

Relay For Life of Rohnert Park
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"I fight back by telling my story. I let people know all the programs the American Cancer Society has to offer."
request Lisa Collodi to speak

I was 24 years old, my husband Pete and I had been married for six years. We had two sons, four and two years old, when I was diagnosed with cancer. I remember the day very clear when my Dr. said, “You have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” My first thought was, “I am going to die and leave my babies and husband. My babies will have no Mom.” I have always been a pretty positive person and those thoughts, thanks to my husband were long gone. I went through chemotherapy and radiation to my chest and abdomen. I had a tumor in my chest the size of a cabbage and a few smaller tumors in my abdomen. When I lost all my hair, my two boys joined in and shaved their heads too. They wanted to be like Mommy. It was a long year, but still I stayed positive, again thanks to my husband.

Fast forward 13 years. I was working at Curves and some ACS volunteers came around telling us about Relay For Life. I read over the brochures and I said to the owner, “I want to start a team here and I will be the captain. I’m a Survivor for 13 years.” She was shocked, but gave me the go ahead. I was pretty surprised with the response from the members. We had so many cancer Survivors that wanted to join me. I was the team captain for three years, then branched out with my own team of family and friends. My excitement was contagious.

It was my fifth year to Relay and I was asked to be Event Chair for our Relay For Life. I said, “Sure!” I loved Relay. I attended the Summit in October ‘08 and I was so inspired by Jeff Ross. I thought this is a man that loves his Mama!

I came home on Saturday and on Tuesday took my Mom to the ER. My Mother had bone and lung cancer. When the ER doctor pulled me out and asked if I wanted to tell her or he could, I said that I wanted to tell her. For me, that was harder than battling my own cancer. My Mom only lasted 5 weeks, but I was by her side the whole way. I really thought how can I go on with Chairing his huge event? But my Mom, who Relayed with me the last year, said, “Do not stop Relaying, keep fighting!”

So, here I am Fighting Back for my Mama and telling my story why I Fight Back and all the great programs that ACS has to offer. I have lost my aunt and father in-law to cancer. My father, brother and nephew are cancer Survivors. I will keep on Relaying and when I come across a Survivor or someone in treatment, I say, “Please join me in the Survivor in June!” I am so thankful for having cancer, it truly changed my life!

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Margaret Felberg

Relay For Life of San Dimas
Los Angeles Region
"Relay has made me feel like I have taken back some of the joy in my life that cancer had taken. It makes me happy to be a part of my community."
request Margaret Felberg to speak

My name is Margaret Felberg and I was diagnosed with Lymphoma Non Hodgkin’s in May 2009.   It all started with a pain in my upper right back that would just not go away.  The doctors had said it was a sprained muscle.  They ran blood tests twice, gave me all the pain pills they could and put me in physical therapy.  This went on for about a month, until a huge lump appeared on my collar bone.

Once that lump appeared which turned out to be a lymph node things got moving. I was sent to an ear, nose throat specialist and when he saw this lump and checked my armpits and glands (which no other doctor had done) he found more “popped” lymph nodes.   He told me it looked like lymphoma, and that I should pray that it was this cancer and not one that was not “text book”.  I was devastated as was my family and friends by this news.  The doctor removed the lymph node from my collar bone a few days later and biopsied it. It was true; I had somehow gotten lymphoma and was at stage three.

I am for the most part a healthy person.  I have never been in the hospital, except to deliver my children.  I do not have a family history of cancer in my family that I know of.  I do not smoke, am not over weight and eat pretty healthy most of the time.  My family and friends just could not believe this was happening.  We had come into a world we were very afraid of.
My oncologist recommended 8 rounds of 8 hour sessions of chemotherapy.  It turned out that I would only need six.  I lost my hair two weeks after the first round of chemo but never felt too sick.  I also had a bone marrow biopsy done the first day I met my oncologist and a week after my first round of chemo a spinal tap.  Fortunately, both came back cancer free.
It was a very hard summer but I had the support of my family and friends the entire way.  My husband, mom and sister went to every appointment and chemo session with me.  Support, faith and attitude were key factors for me during my treatment. 

On September 11, 2009 was my last round of chemo and by mid October I was in remission.  I thought our fight with this horrible disease was done for now.  About a week into my remission my 29 yr old brother, Luis was diagnosed with a type of lymphoma called Burkitts.
Once again we were devastated.  My brother thought he had the flu and had gone to the doctor and received antibiotics to treat his illness.  Unfortunately, once this medication did not work he ended up in the ER after the doctor saw a mass in his liver.  They found masses in several organs and after several tests, also found the cancer in his spinal fluid.  My little brother was now in the horrible world of cancer.
After a week in remission I was now supporting my brother through this horrible disease.  Unfortunately it was only a three month battle.  Luis was diagnosed in October of 2009 and passed away in the ER on December 22, 2009. 

Although I have survived and am thankful beyond words, I mourn the loss of my brother to this horrible disease.  I pray someday cancer is a thing of the past.  We still do not know all we need to know to fight this disease but some day we will no longer fear it.

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Patti Gahagan

Relay For Life of Alamden
Silicon Coastal Region
"Cancer made me stop and take a look at my life and my goals. I have a renewed determination to make the most of my life.”
request Patti Gahagan to speak

Cancer runs in my family. I lost a brother to leukemia at a very young age.  My mother is a breast cancer survivor. And now my biological father has colon cancer. It was always in the back of my mind that I would have cancer. So
when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 42 I was not surprised. My attitude was ok…. how do we fight this thing. What do I need to do?  

With my husband by my side at every turn, we decided the best treatment for my 2 large tumors was a mastectomy, followed by a dense dose of 8 chemotherapy drugs delivered every 2 weeks. Two months after I completed treatment my oncologists called and informed me that new research was just released and I was a good candidate for the new recommended treatment – oh goodie… 1 more year of a chemo, but it didn’t affect my hair growing back! This treatment offered a 52% chance of the cancer not returning. 

From the start, I always felt there was a reason I received this challenge. Shortly after I completed round 1 of my chemo treatment I had an appt with my surgeon, who had become my friend. I told her I felt lost. “What do I do now?” She said “I have just the job for you.”  My Relay For Life career was born!  In 2005 I was involved in one Relay; 2006 – three Relays; and Relay For Life of Almaden became my baby in 2007. 

After my initial round of chemotherapy, I will never forget my first survivors lap… my first lumunaria ceremony. Relay For Life was very healing for me.   I wanted to share this experience with others. I Relay because I never want my children and grandchildren to hear the words “you have cancer.”

In addition to Relay For Life, I am a Road to Recovery driver. I am doing a service for other people fighting cancer by driving them to their treatments. I encourage and offer support and a smile. I am giving back, however, I have received the most reward. 

Cancer made me stop and take a look at my life and my goals. I looked at my priorities and people/things that were most important to me. I’ve looked at the people I surround myself with, and I looked at ways I could give back and help other people not as fortunate as I am. A renewed determination to make the most of my life. I made a commitment to spend more time with my grown children – visiting them and making sure I had one-on-one time with each of them. I want to be the bestest grandmother ever! I want to be a better wife and enjoy our empty nest years. I also made a commitment to be more active in my extended family. And I want to fight back against cancer.

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Jonetta Green

Relay For Life of Arcadia
Los Angeles Region
"I Relay to help others and to get the word out that we are in desperate need for a cure. I also Relay to show others that despite having cancer we are still here and we live on."
request Jonetta Green to speak

My name is Jonetta Marie Green and I am the only girl in a large family of 25 kids (same dad different moms). I was married young and had 2 wonderful kids. I am now engaged to a great guy but still remain close with my ex husband as he is my best friend. He is also the one person who has been by my side during my entire cancer struggle. His name is Hector Gomez. If not for him I'm not sure where I would be right now. I lost my father to agent orange related cancer 5 years ago and lost my mother to a rare form of heart cancer August 25th 2008. It was only 8 months later that I myself was diagnosed with cervical cancer. My initial response was shock and over whelmed, but Hector was there to comfort me and remind me that I am a fighter and I am not the kind of person that gives up. Besides, he reminded me that my mom was with me in spirit and she wouldn’t want me to give up either. That triggered me to find out all possible information on my cancer as soon as possible. A month later after my first biopsy I was told I actually had cervical and uterine cancer. That shock was even worse, but by that time Hector had informed the military unit him and I serve in faithfully of my diagnosis and they also stepped up to help see me through these hard times. The men in my unit are unique and I love them all dearly like my own family.  Our unit is a very tight unit and we see each other as family not just comrades. We have been hit as a unit with cancer before when other members had to battle it and won. Being the only female in the unit is hard but, I'm proud to be a member of such a wonderful unit. Ever since I was transferred to this unit they have gone above and beyond their call of duty to make me feel comfortable. They have supported me and my battle every step of the way.

This year, I formed a team for Relay For Life with my unit.   When they heard this, they decided to walk the relay in full uniform and packs in support of my fight with cancer.. When I asked the guys why they want to do the walk in full gear, they responded saying that they have no clue how hard it is for me or how painful it truly is for me battling cancer, being in the military, and raising 2 kids but the least they could do was sacrifice themselves and walk in full gear. It honestly made me cry and that's when I knew I was a part of this unit. Going beyond what I expected just to understand and feel my pain.

I am proud of both these teams of people – my battalion and the American Cancer Society, Relay For Life.  I will win this battle.

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Linda Hankinson
Relay For Life of San Jacinto
Border Sierra Region
"We lived in our community for 4 years and never heard about the Relay For Life. My mission is to educate the community and get them to participate in a great cause because you never know when cancer will strike."
request Linda Hankinson to speak

I was born and raised in Southern California, where we live and worship the sun.  I come from a family of fair skin, freckles, and moles (the perfect storm as the doctors refer to Melanoma).   It’s only “skin” cancer, the doctors can remove it, right in their office, no big deal.  Boy was I wrong.

I never felt sick, lost any weight, I just had a mole on my left arm that starting growing, changing colors and was itching.  Finally after telling myself, for 6 months that it was nothing and getting tired of listening to my husband complain that I should see a doctor, I finally make the phone call in December 2008, and was definitely not ready for the results.   MERRY CHRISTMAS, YOU HAVE CANCER.

After a quick biopsy I was immediately set for surgery, where I was told that there was a possibility that the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes, what the heck are lymph nodes I wondered, after researching on the computer, now I was scared.  The day of my surgery comes, and I wonder if I will make it home, I put on a brave face with the attitude that, IT’S NO BIG DEAL.

My surgeon was the best, he removed the cancer from my arm, with a wide/deep precise football type incision, leaving a deep curve in the arm, and a few lymph nodes are removed as well.

Waiting a week for the results, the brain goes crazy, with what-ifs.  The news is good; the cancer had not spread pass the lymph nodes.

However the lymph nodes swell pass the stage of comfort, my doctor says this is normal and this will pass, however they have a mind of their own.  After 2 weeks, I can’t stand the pain, joking with the doctor I tell him that I just bought a new ice pick, so please poke me so I don’t have to do it myself.  Relief.  Almost back to normal, if anyone really knows what normal is. 

Next is the appointment with the Oncologist, and more tests only to find out that, there is a mass on my liver that needs immediate attention.  BOY IF ONLY, I WOULD NOT HAVE CALLED THE DOCTOR, EVERYTHING WOULD HAVE BEEN JUST FINE.

Could the Melanoma have spread, and am I ready for those results.  This goes on for 4 months; finally the biopsies all come back negative for cancer. 

I am given a 3 month reprieve, only to find out that I have Melanoma once again this time on the right leg.  Here we go again on the roller coast called Cancer. The tests begin again.

A Cancer Survivor is someone who will never give up, it does no good to pull the covers over your head and hide in bed, because after all you still have Cancer. We take the high road or the bumpy road it does not matter, we take the good days and the bad days all in stride,  we know a cure is to be found, we just have to keep fighting back.

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Rhonda Jones
Relay For Life of Wasco
Great Valley Region
"Relay has given me the satisfaction of knowing I'm involved in something that is positive and helping countless people."
request Rhonda Jones to speak

My story begins about 7 years ago.  I had gone to my annual check – up and mammogram.  I had a lump in my right breast they had been “watching” for a couple of years and this year they said there was considerable change in that breast from the previous year’s mammogram and ultrasound.  They set up an appointment for me to see a surgeon the following day.  During that exam the doctor found that I had an enlarged lymph node under my right arm as well as the lump that had been in my breast for sometime. I was scheduled for surgery the day before Thanksgiving 2003 to remove the lump and biopsy the lymph nodes under my arm. The results came back…no cancer in the lump, but cancer found in the lymph nodes which they knew was a result of breast cancer.  They just weren’t sure where the cancer actually was. It was at that point my family’s life was changed forever!

I was scheduled to see an Oncologist and began a whole battery of test which concluded cancer in the right breast.  The tumor was so small it couldn’t be felt or seen in mammograms or ultrasounds.  It was eventually found in a PET scan. I was amazed at how fast it could go to the lymph nodes even before it was seen. The day after Christmas I began chemotherapy. Two weeks later my hair began to fall out.  Our family had a “head shaving party” in my honor.  My Grandson who was 2 at the time had a hard time figuring it all out. I can still hear him saying … Grammie you’re a BOY!  One of my dear friends showed up.  She shaved her head as well.  She told me she didn’t want me going thru it alone and even went first!

In May we traveled to UCLA. I had a bi-lateral mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. They actually formed new breasts with my stomach fat! So…I got a boob job and tummy tuck all at the same time.  After re-cooperating from the surgery I started more chemotherapy. I was given the drug Herceptin intravenously for 1 year as a preventative measure.

Looking back now … even as hard and scary as it was for me and my family, there are so many other terrible things that could happen to a family other than being diagnosed with cancer. CANCER…actually opened all our eyes as to how unpredictable life is and to how God’s grace is sufficient to get us through anything that life brings us. We need to enjoy life to the fullest each day. My cancer journey has brought so many people into my life! People who will always have a special place in my heart,                                      My Oncologist…Chemo Nurses…My Surgeon…and the enormous Group of SURVIVORS and Relayers across the valley.

I consider myself BLESSED to be a Survivor and I’m honored to be a part of the American Cancer Society and the Relay for Life.

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Clinton Judd
Relay For Life of Santa Paula
Silicon Coastal Region
"Every year Relay reminds me of my important responsibility as a survivor to help others. It gives me hope for my own future."
request Clinton Judd to speak

In the middle of 2006, I was stretching and rubbing my neck when I discovered a peculiar pea-sized something just beneath my skin. There wasn’t much to be suspicious of – after all there are hundreds of lymph nodes in a person’s neck and they do tend to swell normally from time to time. Never the less I decided to monitor the little pea and before long it grew to the size of a grape with no signs of shrinking. So I did what anyone should do and I talked to a doctor.

October 16th, 2006 is a day that will always stand out in my life. After surgery I awoke from a groggy sleep with my mother and future wife holding my hands at either side. The news came like a load of bricks – “You have cancer.”

What? Cancer? Me? I’m only 23 years old! Who gets cancer at 23? What does this mean?

And with that news life’s rollercoaster left the tracks. I was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. I was immediately swept up in a whirlwind of treatment. The chemotherapy was intense – they pushed more strange drugs into me than I care to think about. I could taste them as they went in. The sensations of nausea (or was it simply anxiety?) would sometimes begin before the drugs were administered. And it wasn’t over after leaving the doctor’s office. When I got home I had to take dozens of pills every day to combat the disease and the side affects of the drugs I was taking. This was my personal Cancer Reality – the new motions of life that were necessary for my existence.

Radiation for me was a lot easier than chemo. I was beyond losing my hair and taking pills – I moved on to weekly reminders of my condition with a little sunburn to match. Lying on the table and hearing the humming and buzzing of the machines zapping my cancer was cold and forgettable. It was a time of recovery and denial, trying to bury the reality and forget I ever had the disease. Of course I couldn’t. And when radiation ended, the stress of determining whether or not the treatments were successful began.

The miracle of my story is that despite cancer, I was able to continue with life. In the time that I was treated, I managed to stay in school and graduate, bald as the day I was born, with my master’s degree in mechanical engineering. After recovering from radiation, I found a job, got married and bought a house. Later this year my wife and I are expecting our first child. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t think about how fortunate I am to have these experiences despite my diagnosis.

Thanks to the support of many, my cancer has yet to return. In October I will celebrate my 4th year since diagnosis. It is a victory not just for me, but for all the volunteers, doctors, researchers, survivors and caregivers out there that are in this battle against cancer.

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Dorothy Lake
Relay For Life of South San Francisco
Greater Bay Area Redwood Empire Region
"Our communities must be more aware of the services offered by the Society. Relay For Life does that and it is a fun way to raise funds."
request Dorothy Lake to speak

In February 2000 I was diagnosed with Granulosa cell tumors, third stage ovarian cancer. Of course we were scared but after the initial shock, we knew it was a battle we had to win.  The statistic for survival of ovarian cancer at that time was 10%.

After surgery I was given four months of aggressive chemotherapy requiring a week of each month in the hospital. This treatment was usually used for men half my age. I was 62. During treatment I had blood clots in the shoulder and lung. I survived with the help of compassionate Doctors, Nurses and prayer of family and friends, I call them caregivers.

Needless to say, I lost my hair. I got a wig, hats, scarves and didn’t know how to react to comments like, ”you look cute.” But that is what those who love you do, they encourage. I had my personal ‘Road to Recovery’ driver, my husband, Sam that made sure I was where I needed to be, even when I didn’t want to. I was blessed

I was cancer free for four years and became involved in Relay for Life. In 2004 the dreaded words, “your cancer is back.”  There was surgery and chemo again, less aggressive but I lost my hair again. You just do what has to be done. I survived!

I had two years cancer free and in 2006 the tumors were back, not as many but surgery was necessary, no chemo. An Oncologist said to me, “It’s like you have chronic cancer.” From 2006 to 2009 I have had five surgeries to remove tumors.

I have been blessed with a support system of family and friends from the beginning of my journey that I did not have to use the services offered by ACS. I am happy to be part of an event, RFL that presents these services as hope to others.

I believe I have survived because of medical science and research funded by events like Relay for Life. There isn’t much known about Granulosa cell cancer, but we walk and hope for a cure. I believe I am a survivor because I’m part of a greater plan and that might be just to share my story and give hope to someone who feels hopeless. 

I AM A SURVIVOR  LIVING WITH CANCER, hoping to win the war and have many more birthdays.

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M
ichelle Lauffer
Relay For Life of Rubidoux
Border Sierra Region
"I have seen direct results of the progress of the Society. When my sister was going through diagnosis and treatment, then 7 years ago, as I went through my journey, and when 2 more of my sisters were battling cancer."
request Michelle Lauffer to speak 

My story begins like most folks.  In the spring of 2003, I noticed a mass in my right breast.  Beginning at age 17, I had my first experience with a lump in my breast.  For several years, those lumps would reappear in both breasts, I would fret for weeks and then find out that they were benign.  But this time I knew something was different.  Not only did this feel different, I also had other symptoms.  My skin and hair looked and felt different and  was so very tired all of the time.  I just couldn’t seem to get any energy.  I overlooked those symptoms for several months because at this point of my life I had some pretty major events occur. 

First of all, after 25 years of marriage, my husband decided he just wasn’t sure anymore if he wanted to stay in the relationship.  To add to the situation, due to a restructuring, my employer of 13 years let me go.  My two children were growing up and didn’t seem to need me as much.  In looking back, I realize that all of those things helped to mask what should have been a health concern.

Well, things started turning around and I found a new job in March 2003.  My husband was still undecided at that point but I had lots to do.  I had to move my family to a less expensive place and get acclimated to a new career.

I finally talked to my sister about the mass and when she felt it she advised me to have it checked out.  Well, I knew right then and there it was cancer.  No doubt in my mind I just needed confirmation.  I made an appointment, was sent for several different tests, had my diagnosis confirmed and then had to make a decision about treatment.  That was easy.  I knew I couldn’t take any time off from work and that I was on my own financially so I chose the best option for me at the time.  I had a lumpectomy with removal of the sentinel nodes.  After that, I had the much dreaded experience of chemotherapy.  I made appointment on Thursday afternoons on the weeks when my flex schedule gave me Friday off.  Then I went
home and slept until Monday.  Radiation was a little bit different, I would get up very early every morning to leave my home in Corona and drive to Saint Bernadine’s in San Bernardino to have my treatment by 7:30 am.  Then I would get on the road and head to work in Mira Loma.  After work, I went home and slept until the next morning.  
 
Well seven years later it is all a memory one that I like to keep fresh in my mind.  Today, if someone asks me how to cope I tell them to keep one foot in front of the other and use the resources that available through the American Cancer Society. I have tried to become a source of knowledge and encouragement to those struggling with cancer or watching a loved one go through cancer and I am committed to doing that as long as I am on this earth. 

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Elvira Medina
Relay For Life of Ocean Beach
Border Sierra Region
"I Relay because it is the Society's signature fundraiser, I want to help raise funds to support programs because I know they help make the cancer journey a little easier."
request Elvira Medina to speak

I was a single and my 13y old son Robby was (and still is) a baseball fanatic!  He lived and breathed anything and everything about baseball… his favorite position on the baseball diamond was behind the plate, catcher.  So it wasn’t too unusual when he complained of this painful bump on his right shin.  When it seemed the daily icing and Ibuprofen couldn’t go forever, I told ‘the Kid’ it was time to see a doctor.  I picked him up on a Friday mid-morning in and that day we went from one end of the county and saw three different doctors, ending up at a pediatric orthopedic oncologist’s office who ended up scheduling Robby to see an orthopedic oncologist the following Monday 8am.  After speaking with this doctor, Robby was scheduled for scans, x-rays, lab work, etc. ending the week with a biopsy for that Friday.

I was at work on my 30th birthday, looked up and my team coming in with a cake all lit up.  They saw I was on the phone and then expression on my face… put down the cake and walked out.  I later called them back to my office to thank them for their kindness and told them the pathology report said ‘Osteogenic Sarcoma, stage IV’.  So began my 10+ years relationship with ACS, I called 1-800-227-2345 for information about osteosarcoma.  The information I received helped me understand the diagnosis… helped me formulate questions for the doctors… gave us an idea of what options we might have.

Two weeks after 8-hour allograft surgery, Robby began his chemotherapy treatments… he was non-weight bearing the entire time and his chemotherapy protocol found him inpatient 3-4 days then home 3-4 days then back inpatient 3-4 days, etc. for 13 months.  The summer of 1991, I forced Robby to attend a week-long resident camp in the Julian Mountains for children 8-18y diagnosed with cancer sponsored by the ACS’ Camp Reach for the Sky (CR4TS). Every summer since, Robby has spent a week with some of his best friends… they have remained very close until now, they have been in each other’s weddings and godfathers to each other’s children.  Robby eventually graduated from CR4TS, became a volunteer counselor and starting out part-time because he was in college, he started working at ACS about 9-10y ago and is now the Manager of Pediatric Programs.

How fortunate was I to have my son and his friends available to support me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999.  In fact it was Robby that suggested we just remove my hair now to avoid waking up in the morning with it all over my pillow.  The REAL PARTY began after completing my chemo treatments… ‘DAILY radiation treatments’… bring on the burned skin!  I worked through my entire chemo/radiation treatments just because it beat staying home watching Jerry Springer and All My Children. Plus imagine how it feels to have a bunch of people hovering and fussing over you, making sure you’re comfortable, etc. etc. one minute and then POOF! they vanish because the radiation machine beam will be pointing at me shortly (apparently NOT SAFE for overexposure to radiation)… that is a really weird feeling when you come to THAT realization!  I used to lie on the table and count the blinking red light…. 52 for the first view then 48 blinks for the second one.  … Because of my previous experience with my son, I knew a little of what to expect but most importantly… I KNEW life could and would continue after cancer.

So now, Robby and I have been in remission for a number of years (about 10y for me and a whopping 20y for The Kid!).  I was devastated when Robby’s surgeon held my hands in his as he sat me on the couch in the waiting room and he sat on the coffee table his legs so long his knees were touching mine and told me… ‘the pathology diagnosis is osteosarcoma right tibia’.  I was in mere shock when I insisted my surgeon just tell me because there was no way I was going to drive all the way to her office for her to tell me the pathology findings when I already know what she’s going to say… my doctor confirmed what I knew ‘the pathology reports state positive for cancer’. 

Cancer can sometimes bring blessings in disguise… we have met some incredible people… many remain in our lives and many remain in our memories. 

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Robin O'Conner
Relay For Life of Costa Mesa
Orange County Region
"Relay give me a way of fighting. It gives me hope. It gives me a voice."
request Robin O'Conner to speak

I celebrated my 50th birthday Dec. 7, 2005 and was paddling Dragonboat along side a team of Breast Cancer Survivors. I was in awe of them and inspired by them and planning a huge trip to compete in mainland China, with many of them.  I had scheduled a checkup and mammogram with my new doctor at Kaiser in January 2006.  I remember picking up a phone message after the visit, asking me to call Kaiser back.  With a sinking gut feeling, I knew, in my heart of hearts, that something was wrong.  I immediately took a shower and did a self exam.  My fingers quickly found a pronounced lump in my right breast.  How could I have missed it? I stood in the shower and cried and cried until the water ran cold. Life would never be the same.

Biopsies were scheduled and my surgeon pronounced me yet another member of the “team”.  I was terrified and I had to make what seemed like a million decisions, immediately. First, non-negotiable lumpectomy and sentinel node removal. She removed a 2 centimeter stage 2 tumor and gently pushed me for decisions on further treatment.  I was frantic with worry and sleepless from the overwhelming sadness.  I tried to get as much information as possible from the ACS website and through asking many sly questions of my Dragonboat  friends who had been through this.  At the time, I desperately wanted to continue on my China trip (I could not go if I chose to have chemo) but I did not want to make a stupid decision. My surgeon says that “cancer is so damned inconvenient” No kidding! I just had way too much to do to fit these appointments into my life! I wanted no one to know outside of a couple of close friends, my husband and my boss. Rounds of blood tests and heart tests and genetic tests and MRIs and biopsies on the left side and ultrasound and all to determine if I could live with the percentages I would be buying into with radiation alone and to determine whether I could benefit from systemic drug therapy and then which one. Everything felt like a life and death decision. One day, after more tests, I felt like I was totally out of control and had a meltdown at the pharmacy.  I remembered I had the card for a nurse with whom I had met for my initial visits. She immediately saw me.  I cried. I asked questions and as I talked, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. “You have control of this situation and you can make the decision for your treatment on your terms.  No one else’s.” 

That was a turning point.  Was I still sad? Yes, the fact that I had control over my treatment was exactly what I needed to hear. I could move forward.

I just passed my 4th birthday and the future is a good one. 

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Linda Ponte
Relay For Life of Galt
Great Valley Region
"I Relay to HONOR, REMEMBER, and EDUCATE. I Relay to FIGHT BACK."
request Linda Ponte to speak

My first experience with cancer was so much more than I could have realized at the time.  I was thirteen, my brother Kevin was just two, my Mom, Ellen, was thirty eight, young, beautiful all I had at the time, as my parents were divorced.   We lived in Canada and she was transferred to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto for treatment.  When she returned over three months later, she was barely eighty pounds and so frail, we were told the end was very near, they were right.  After that I always feared I would never live past forty, it was always in the back of my mind that I would get the big “C” too.  I was very diligent about getting my regular pap smears, pelvic exams, breast exams I even started to get CA125 screenings.  I was not going to get this.  I reached forty, it was a huge milestone for me, I beat it, and my fears were gone.  Seven years later they all came rushing back in.  I had been having a problem with my teeth.  After 14 months, three different dentists and feeling like everyone thought I was crazy, my dentists decided to remove a tooth they thought might be causing all the pain and infection.  They also decided to do bone and tissue biopsies while they were there.  I still remember sitting in the oral surgeon’s office and having this young 25 year old tell me I had two types of lymphoma and might live for five years with treatment.  What would my two boys, Jordan and Jake do without their Mom, who would tell them stories, tuck them in at night…..how could this be happening to me.  I spent the next two days crying, wondering why me, researching all the information I could find on lymphoma.  Too much information actually!  I was overwhelmed.  My gynecologist recommended an Oncologist and the journey started.   After several visits, more MRI’s and PET scans and the most painful bone marrow procedure I was diagnosed with Stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  I had two types of lymphoma, a Large B cell and a follicular.  The large B cell was a fast growing curable cancer and the follicular was a very slow growing non-curable cancer.  After a trip to Stanford to consult with the leading lymphoma specialists my doctors recommended a series of chemo treatments that included a relatively new drug called Rituxan.  I didn’t know what to expect that first day of treatment, what I found was amazing spirit.  Next came the hair loss, which I took care of by having my stylist shave it off, I was going to be in control not the cancer.  I also unlike most cancer patients gained weight due to the heavy steroid treatments.  Just my luck!!!  What I learned was …. I am strong, a fighter, a survivor.  Today, over three years later the large B cell lymphoma is in complete remission and the follicular will be something I will manage.  I have PET scans done every four months and I have several small masses back.  They are too small to treat
currently so we will continue to monitor them.  If they become a nuisance we will hit them with another round of chemo.  I don’t say “Why Me” anymore these were the cards that were dealt to me….I say “Why Not Me” I can do this….I am a Survivor, A Fighter and Relay For Life has helped me get the word out there that we can do this, we can make a difference…..that one day we will “WIN” this battle.

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Renee Riddle
Relay For Life of Tracy
Great Valley Region
"My first Relay I was a team captain and I knew for the first time in my life I was doing the right thing. I learned about the Society and the services they provide along with the research - it was a win-win!"
request Renee Riddle to speak

WOW, where do I start – I lost my dad when I was 8 so when my mom got sick – it scared the heck out of me, I was only 15 when she got sick. My 16th birthday was spent wondering if my mom was going to be OK, I wanted to learn how to drive – not because I wanted to go out with my friends but because I wanted to be the one to drive my mom to her chemo and radiation just so I was the one to help her get better. It didn’t work – I lost her when I was 16.
 
When I tuned 24 and was told I had cancer, I thought for sure that was it, every 8 years of my  life I lost somebody, I thought no way was I going to die, I had two little girls age 3 and 2. I couldn’t leave them like my parents left me. Lucky for me a few surgeries’ and I was OK.

The years went by  and more of my family died from cancer. All I can think of was I’m glad I had my husband my kids and the gift my parents left me.. my brothers.

When I turned 40 it hit me very hard again, this time it was my oldest brother Bob. He was like a father to me.  But I thought this time I knew about the American Cancer Society and I knew they are on my side. My brother knew that too! So I became his caregiver – with the help of my brother Rocky. We stayed by his side we became his health advocates. It was so hard to watch my brother suffer – he was a strong man a rancher, I’d be at his house and he would just pick up a bale of hay like it was nothing and than his cancer he couldn’t pick up his medicine cup..He had AML and CML – (Acute Myeloid Leukemia – Chronic Myeloid Leukemia) he was also a diabetic; he had nothing going for him when he got sick. We were able to get him into Stanford University, there he was put in an isolation room.. months went by – different chemo’s was tried, nothing worked than his Oncologist talked to us about a “new” chemo still in clinical trails. Bob looked at me and said “what do I have to loose?” So he tried it, it was so new that when the Dr. brought it into the room we had to be in the little room and watch through a window, the Dr. came in with the nurse wearing clothing like they were caring a nuclear bomb, they covered every part of my brother with a lead blanket except where his IV was then they opened a box and inside that was another metal box. I was in tears wondering what they were putting into my brother’s body, the smell was like burning flesh is was terrible, he went though that 3 times a week for two months.. After that was over, we waited for his Dr to come into his room with good news. His Dr. came in and looked at me and said “Do you Relay” I looked at him like he was crazy –again he said “Do you Relay?” I was puzzled” I looked at my brother and said “What about my brother” The Dr. said Do you RELAY?. My brother hits me in the arm and in his weak voice he tells me just like a big brother would – “you dummy – your shirt” ( I had one of many of my Relay shirts on) than my brother told the Dr. yes she does for our mother, my brother told him as soon as he was better he was going to walk the survivor lap with me” (I couldn’t wait for my brother just to walk),, his Dr than told the both of us because of Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society just because we don’t have a cure today doesn’t mean we won’t have a cure tomorrow. That day my brother made me promise him I wouldn’t stop doing Relay – so hopefully our kids will never hear the words that we heard “you have cancer” So I will fight back and I made a promise I’m not stopping until there is a cure.

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Linda Sabatello
Relay For Life of Riverside
Border Sierra Region
"Thru Relay I have met some incredible people. Whenever I look into a Survivor's eyes I get inspired all over again to keep fighting!"
request Linda Sabatello to speak

My name is Linda Sabatello.  I am honored to be here today to talk to you about why I Relay.  My Relay experience started about 11 years ago.  You see, 11 years ago I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. 

My journey started with a visit to my family doctor for a small lump I found on my neck.  I explained to my doctor that I had this lump, and had it for awhile.  Although it was small, never got any bigger, and didn’t really bother me, it just never went away.  She was less than concerned about it, and I think more to amuse me than anything else, she agreed to run some blood tests.  I went back a week later for the results of those tests, and was informed that all testing came back fine and she would see me for my regular check up when the time was due.  I said, “What about this lump on my neck?”  Her response was, “Oh, that’s right. I will set you up for a scan of the neck, “to put your mind at ease.”

Well, I went for the scan and was called back into my doctor’s office to be told that the scan showed some areas of concern, and she wanted to refer me to a surgeon to have the lump removed.   On the day of surgery the surgeon informed me and my family that if he suspected cancer when he was in there removing the lump, he would remove the thyroid at the same time. 

Not being concerned at all, because after all, my family doctor wasn’t concerned and my blood work came back” fine”.  I said, “ok.”  I awoke after my surgery to be informed by my family that I had cancer and the thyroid was removed. 

While undergoing treatment for my cancer, I had a friend who worked for the American Cancer Society.  She told me about this “event” that she was involved with thru ACS, called Relay for Life and invited me to a team captains’ meeting.   I was so impressed with the enthusiasm of the committee as well as the commitment of the other team captains that I put together a family team and walked my first survivor lap! 

Now, I had this amazing person in my life, my mother, our Granny, who was a 50, yes, I said, 50 year survivor of breast cancer!  I told her about Relay for Life and she was my biggest supporter!  She not only donated but recruited neighbors and friends to do the same.  She commented to me that she wished there was something like Relay for Life when she was going through her cancer treatments.  To know that there were other people out there just as scared as she was, and to know that there were people out there who would support her. 

Now, having been only 2 years old when my mom had her mastectomy, I just grew up not really knowing what she went through; I now know what an incredibly brave and strong person she was.  Yes, I said “was”, you see my mom passed away on April 27, 2008 from many complications, one of which was stomach cancer.

My mom was misdiagnosed with her stomach cancer being told she had broken a rib, (not sure how a 79 year old lady who didn’t do more than go to church and take her weekly trips to the hairdressers, could break a rib, but hey this was a doctor right?), told she had gall stones and needed her gall bladder removed, to FINALLY having an endoscopy done, due to our insistence because of her increased, unbearable pain she was in, at which time the cancer was “suspected.”

 We found out that indeed Mom had stomach cancer.  We found this out at the same time we were told from the emergency room doctor on Saturday morning, April 26th,  to call family because my mother would not make it through the weekend.  You could imagine our shock and disbelief.  How could this wonderful mother, sister, aunt, grandmother and great-grandmother be leaving us?  We were far from ready to say good-bye. What were we going to do without our GRANNY?  We thought we were taking mom in for just another hospital visit, she would return home in a few days, just as always.   She passed away Sunday evening.  

I will continue to Relay in memory of my mother and all the other mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters, to raise money for research, to have the funds available to help the family and patients who are scared when they hear those words, “you have cancer”. And to continue to raise money for education so that we educate those affected, and educate the educated, so they know they need to look further than blood tests.

 I want to congratulate each and every one of you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the step that you have taken to be a part of Relay and the American Cancer Society.  To thank you for the tireless efforts you make every year to join us at Relay.   Let’s all continue to stay and fight so that we may have a “World with more Birthdays.”

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Victoria Shatavyzadeh
Relay For Life of Indio
Border Sierra Region
"Relay has made me more aware of the community of people in my area that are trying to make a difference in caner research every day."
request Victoria Shatavyzadeh to speak

I began on this journey with the American Cancer Society after my treatment for Thyroid Cancer. I was diagnosed in 2008 with Follicular and Papillary Thyroid Cancer. The doctors assured me I was lucky because I had the “good cancer.” I never knew there was a good cancer; turns out it was not so good. I had two surgeries and 131 radiation treatment to get rid of the cancer cells in my body. It was one of the most challenging times in my life emotionally and physically.

I was introduced to the American Cancer Society by a friend of mine. It was at that time when I realized how many resources were available to cancer survivors. Needless to say I was amazed. When I was going through my treatment I was alone. I had no one to turn to and felt very isolated. So when I visited my first Relay, I was completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the ACS. I could not believe how many people were just like me who had been touched one way or another by cancer.
 
Cancer, I must say, has really changed the way I look at everything. I now know that you have to live for now and not waste your moments. I am thankful for that since we often get too wrapped up in day to day things that aren’t so important. So I speak on behalf of the American Cancer Society to inform everyone I come across of the services that are available. I do not want anyone to feel alone on their journey through cancer. I want to make a difference in the survivor’s life; I want them to know that we are here for them.

This is why I have been given a voice in the fight against cancer.

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Lorraine Silvera
Relay For Life of Orangevale
Great Valley Region
"I value every day. I have become a volunteer with Relay For Life to get the message to the community that the American Cancer Society is here to help with services."
request Lorraine Silvera to speak

My cancer journey started when I was 26 years old, with a diagnosis of cervical cancer. I had just given birth to my second child. The doctor assured me the surgery would be easy and I would be back to normal by the end of the weekend. He was right, outpatient surgery on Thursday and by Sunday I was back to normal. I had had another female surgery before and this wasn’t really any different. I didn’t consider myself a cancer survivor.

I was given up for adoption at birth, not knowing any information about my birth parents I decided to search for them. At the age of 27 I found both of my birth parents, grandparents and 6 half siblings. My father’s side of the family had good health and longevity but my mother’s side was a different story. Cancer was very prominent in every female. With this news I scheduled an appointment with my doctor and he scheduled routine screenings. For the next twelve years I went to the doctor regularly. At the age of 39 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. All the years of screenings and being proactive I thought I could handle anything. When I heard the words “you have cancer” I was devastated! None of the previous preparations had prepared me for what was next.

After several visits to the oncologist and the plastic surgeon, surgery was scheduled. As the day drew near I became more and more nervous I knew this was going to be different than any other surgery in the past. This would be surgery number eleven. I always went into surgery with a good attitude all I wanted to do was wake up. After all at the bottom of the release form it says “there is a chance of death." I knew if I woke up I could handle whatever came next. Excruciating pain is all I felt!  Test results came back stage 1 cancer and it didn’t reach my lymph nodes, they had gotten it all. Three days in the hospital and another nine days in bed at home. A variety of medications and the five day chemo pill, I was among the lucky ones not getting sick and no hair loss. Two weeks later I returned to work.

Four months later I was back into surgery for a complete hysterectomy. New test results came in, I had tested positive for ovarian cancer. This surgery was a little different going to sleep not knowing what they would find during surgery and again that painful release form. But again I woke up! Even though there were several complications with this surgery I knew I could handle whatever came at me. I had to be strong; I had three children that needed me. Two weeks later I returned to work.

I know my battle is different than most. I feel lucky that my routine screenings and tests saved my life. Early detection is the best detection!

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Marilyn White
Relay For Life of Gardena
Los Angeles Region
"I am grateful for the life I have and am so full that I want to give to others what was so generously given to me."
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As an athlete I was used to dealing with challenges head on. Even difficulties I encountered in my 40 years of teaching did not disconcert me. I had always been fearless as child. But it all changed on April 23, 2009. That’s the day I knew I had cancer. At first I thought it was just a mistake, I couldn’t have heard the “C” word. I knew the doctor was talking to me but it sounded like a foreign language being spoken at warp speed. This was supposed to be a mammogram re-take, not an ultrasound showing a grade 3 invasive cancer and a stage 1B in situ cancer in the same breast. I don’t really remember how I got home but by the grace of God I got there safely. I didn’t know what to do or who to call. I sat numbly staring into space until reality reached me. Only then did I realize that I was not the only one in my family tested by this dreaded disease. My sister, the twins had both had it, one a 12 year survivor, the other a 2 year survivor, my aunt had had it, my grandmother had had it and even my grandfather had had it. I called one of my sisters and she immediately told me to call the American Cancer Society to find help in my area. I called and was greeted by a patient loving woman who patiently listened to my frantic disorganized questions with a tender heart and answered my confusion with concrete offers of assistance. She sent me the materials I needed. Those materials calmed many of my fears and gave me suggestions of things I needed to ask my cancer care team. I began to feel in control of my fears and was prepared to run the race against cancer like the champion I knew I could be. There were still a lot of call to the American Cancer Society and the coaching was wonderful. I have come through with flying colors. I’ve had a lumpectomy, on some reports it was called a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation and cataract surgery to repair the damage done by the chemotherapy and I’m here to tell you there is life after cancer!   One morning during chemotherapy as I was sitting feeling sorry for myself, God gave me a song that comforted me and I’d like to share a part of it with you now. 
You are enough to dry my tears
You are enough to calm my fears
Only you are enough to direct my way
And to comfort me each and every day
Yes, you are enough for me Lord
You are enough for me.

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Tina Yusty Benitez
Relay For Life of Shadow Hills/Sunland
Los Angeles Region
"The way people come together for this goal is amazing to me. I feel so inspired and energized by the sight of all the participants and volunteers."
request Tina Yusty Benitez to speak

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on 12/21/2001. I’m the youngest of 6 girls, with no history of cancer in my family, except for my maternal uncle who was stricken with prostate cancer.
 
Being diagnosed with cancer was completely shocking for me. I never would have expected to be diagnosed with such disease. The fear I felt was unlike nothing I have ever felt in my entire life. My first thought was that I would die from this very soon. That I had already been introduced to my mortality and it was waiting for me at any moment. I didn’t know the long and difficult road ahead waiting for me.

I knew nothing about cancer except for chemotherapy, radiation and hair falling. That was the extent of my knowledge of cancer. Little did I know I was about to get a crash course in the matter of cancer and anything else having to do with it. I never imagined that I would end up being “an expert” on the subject of cancer and cancer treatments.

I had my fist lumpectomy on 12/27/2001, with a subsequent surgery on 1/18/2002. About 6 weeks later I began my chemotherapy treatment which consisted of 3 different kinds of chemo used simultaneously. The day I went to get my very first chemotherapy treatment I sat on this very comfortable reclining chair with a small TV in front and aside from having the IV inserted I sat there thinking “This is a piece of cake. I don’t know why people make such a big deal about this” I went home that day after about 3 hours and the next day in the morning I was still fine. That afternoon I started feeling a little bit strange. This is how the rollercoaster of chemotherapy started for me. It was the most horrible feeling, or should I say symptoms I’ve ever felt in my entire life. In a nutshell, I didn’t think I could survive anymore treatments. I did survive all 6 aggressive chemotherapy treatments along with an aggressive regimen of radiation.

Still, 1 lymph node had tested positive, but I was very hopeful that with the treatment I would be gone for good. In 6/2004 my ovaries were removed to diminish the possibility of a recurrence. It didn’t work. After just about 5 years on tamoxifen it came back.
On April 12, 2008 I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer with metastasis to the liver and lymph nodes in the chest area. My prognosis was about 2½ years to live with treatment. Again, I took chemotherapy treatment but not as aggressive as the first time. I was able to get around, work this time. Since then I have know that it will keep coming back but I also know that I will keep fighting it as many times at it comes back.

On 6/21/2010 after a lung biopsy we found that it had spread to the lung and begun taking chemotherapy in pill form. I feel very good but chemotherapy in any form is still chemotherapy.

My life is very happy in spite of this illness. I hope in God that whatever time I have is as happy as it has been till now. 

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Lori G. Bremner
Leukemia Survivor
Sonoma, CA
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
“All of us Heroes feel very lucky to be alive and to have the chance to use our voices in the fight against cancer.”
request Lori Bremner to speak

Diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia at the age of 20, Lori Bremner found her family and doctors to be huge sources of strength. She also found some strength in herself. Thirty years ago, survival rates for bone marrow transplant recipients were relatively low.

With this in mind, Lori fought hard to find treatments that did not involve this procedure. With a little help from the American Cancer Society, she succeeded and now has 30 years of survivorship under her belt, despite being given a zero percent survival rate. “I didn’t know it at the time,” she says, “but the Society funded the early research of combination chemotherapies that saved my life.”

Lori went on to lead a normal life, preferring not to talk about her cancer experience. Relay For Life changed all of that. “Two women came to my Mother’s Club and said they were putting on an event called Relay For Life,” she recalls. “They were looking for team captains. My hand went up and life has never been the same.”

“Now I can’t NOT Relay. After spending so many years ‘in the closet’ as a cancer survivor, I need to make up for lost time. The fact that I am alive is a gift and I Relay so we don’t lose others to cancer. I also Relay for my mom. Her cancer was found when she was 73 at her very first mammogram. If it wasn’t for my Society training, I never would have kept nagging her to have a mammogram and her cancer might not have been found until it was too late.”

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LaVerna Edmonds
Breast Cancer and Leukemia Survivor
Torrance, CA
Los Angeles Region
“I fight back by talking to people and letting them know about all the good the American Cancer Society does!”
request LaVerna Edmonds to speak

“I always thought I was a compassionate person,” declares LaVerna Edmonds. “But after having cancer, I think I have become more compassionate than ever! Having cancer has also brought our family a lot closer together. We don’t take each other for granted anymore.”

Diagnosed with breast cancer and a form of leukemia called “essential thrombocytosis,” LaVerna sought the support of her husband, children, grandchildren, and her “very special group of friends” to see her through this challenging time. She also took advantage of the American Cancer Society web site, http://www.cancer.org/ and joined a support group.

And then she found Relay For Life, or maybe it found her. “I became involved in the Torrance Relay because my grandson brought home a flyer from his school,” she recalls. “I had just finished my radiation treatments. My daughter asked me if I would like to join her and I said yes, without even knowing what Relay was about.”

Relay For Life soon became an important part of LaVerna’s life. Her most memorable experience, she says, “was when my husband, a prostate cancer survivor, and I did the Survivors Lap. When we came around the curve, we saw all of our family there, cheering us on.”

As a Hero of Hope, LaVerna fights back by sharing vital cancer prevention and early detection information and providing support and hope to those touched by cancer. Her goal is to see a cancer-free world, where her children and grandchildren never have to hear the words, “you have cancer.”

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Renita Wickes
Ovarian Cancer Survivor
Barstow, CA
Border Sierra Region
“I know that one day our purple ribbon will stand for the fact that we have found a cure.”
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For Renita Wickes, the experience of having cancer has turned out to have a silver lining. “My life has changed tremendously,” she says. “People come to me to get help when they, a friend, or a family member receives a cancer diagnosis. I feel good when I can tell them to call 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit the web site. I feel honored when they share their story with me and by the fact that, through the American Cancer Society, I am able to raise awareness about cancer prevention and treatment.”

An 11-year ovarian cancer survivor, Renita became involved in Relay For Life when she shared her survival story with a co-worker. Her co-worker was so inspired she enlisted the entire store to form a Relay Team.

After losing her mother to breast cancer in 2002, Renita sought support by attending Relay. “I felt like my life had been destroyed when I first lost my mom to cancer, she says. “I found hope again when I walked the track in her honor. I Relay in the hope that we will soon alleviate the suffering of cancer patients and their families and so that I know I am not alone in the war against cancer and that I am not the only one who has been hurt.”

In 2008, Renita encouraged her brother to attend Relay alongside her. “It was my brother’s first Relay,” she says. “I don’t think we ever talked much about my mom and me having cancer or about her losing her battle. It was his first time hearing me speak publicly and it overwhelmed him.”

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Marty Holmes
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor
Stockton, CA
Great Valley Region
“I Relay to celebrate my life and the lives of other cancer survivors, and to honor my father.”
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Before Marty Holmes’ father passed away, Marty made him a solemn promise that if he should ever be diagnosed with cancer, he would honor his father by fighting it with all his might. Two years later, Marty found himself challenged to make good on that promise. At the age of 38, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Now a 10-year survivor, Marty recalls, “I soon began to develop a formula for becoming what I called a ‘Cancer Challenger.’ Those strong words I spoke to my hero, my dad, would forever change my outlook on life.” Marty’s cancer-fighting formula involved overcoming two common components of cancer: the fear of pain and the fear of death.

“To overcome my fear of pain, I worked on increasing my tolerance for pain. This included making my body as strong as possible through bodybuilding and nutrition.” Marty became determined to continue to improve his physical fitness, despite enduring six bone-marrow biopsies and many years of chemotherapy.

Reminding himself “the fear of death doesn’t keep you from dying, it keeps you from living,” Marty reconnected with his faith and found new ways to focus on and enjoy life. After his bone marrow transplant, Marty decided it was time to slow down and stop working 90 hours a week. He got married and started a family. When a client told him about Relay For Life, Marty decided to participate.

“All of my Relay experiences have been memorable, but being there with my wife and son this year made it even more memorable. I am definitely fighting back against cancer. You just look death in the eye and move forward with your life.”

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Beverlye Hyman Fead
Uterine Cancer (Leiomyosarcoma) Survivor
Montecito, CA
Silicon Coastal Region
“I fight back by following my passion and setting long-term goals.”
request Beverlye Hyman Fead to speak

Beverlye Hyman Fead has lost her grandmother, mother, and two sisters to cancer and she is determined to do everything in her power to save future generations from facing the same fate. Diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of uterine cancer, Beverlye finds strength in her family, her friends, and her poetry class and is working with her granddaughter on a book about explaining cancer to children. (To be published by the American Cancer Society later this year.) Her first book about cancer is called I Can Do This: Living with Cancer, Tracing a Year of Hope.

“Cancer makes me want to give back as much as I can,” she says. “Giving back is my passion and I feel so lucky to be able to do so.” Clearly, Beverlye has no shortage of generosity. She also gives back through Relay For Life and recalls her most memorable Relay during which many of the local female city officers of Santa Barbara, including supervisors and the mayor, joined her for the Survivors Lap. “I Relay,” she says, “to show others living proof of the importance of fighting back against cancer.”

Beverlye’s involvement with the Society doesn’t stop at Relay. She’s also a Legislative Ambassador and sits on the Gold Coast Region council. In short, Beverlye is committed to fighting cancer with optimism and energy.

“I think cancer is becoming a manageable disease. I look forward to hearing future generations ask us why we were so scared by cancer. My outlook is very positive. My fondest hope is that I can reach out to every cancer patient to tell them that receiving a cancer diagnosis is a time to fight, not to lie down.”

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Elizabeth Martin
Breast Cancer Survivor
San Diego, CA
Border Sierra Region
“I called the 800 number on the day I was diagnosed and the American Cancer Society has been a part of my life ever since.”
request Elizabeth Martin to speak

When asked how she fights back against cancer, Elizabeth Martin replies, “With every fiber of my being!” When she received a breast cancer diagnosis nine years ago, Elizabeth called the American Cancer Society’s toll-free number immediately. She took advantage of a number of Society programs and events, including Reach to Recovery, Look Good…Feel Better, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, and Relay For Life.

As soon as she had recovered from her surgery and chemotherapy, Elizabeth began to volunteer with the Society and play an active roll in events like Relay For Life, Daffodil Days, and Celebration on the Hill. “Once I had benefited from your many services, I had to give back!” she says. “I wanted to be there to provide support and help find a cure.”

Elizabeth counts Relay as an essential part of her life. Her very first Relay is also her most memorable. “I didn’t know what to expect,” she recalls. “The Survivors Lap made me feel special.”

“I Relay,” she says, “to get the word out that cancer is here and it’s affecting everyone’s lives. We need funding for research, especially for minorities. There are too many health disparities out there and we need to know why. I Relay so that recently diagnosed cancer survivors can feel special the way I did on my first Relay. I Relay because it brings the community together!”

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Vickie Wilkinson
Uterine Cancer Survivor
Redding, CA
Great Valley Region
“I fight back by spreading the word about Relay For Life.”
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Vickie Wilkinson was involved in Relay For Life long before she had cancer. A friend of hers was a Relay Chair and needed some help with the event. Being the supportive friend she is, Vickie immediately offered to help and has been involved with Relay ever since.

Her most memorable year was her first it’s what kept her coming back. “Six years ago, at my first Relay,” she recalls, “I heard the names of my family and friends who have been touched by cancer. I became determined to join the fight so that my family and friends never have to hear the words ‘You have cancer.’”

Diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2008, Vickie remains optimistic and feels incredibly lucky to have such an amazing support network already in place. Her experience with Relay and the American Cancer Society has helped her to stay strong while facing cancer, her own and her husband’s, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer one month after she received her own diagnosis.

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Maria Williams
Breast Cancer Survivor
Atwater, CA
Great Valley Region
“Cancer has inspired me to celebrate life and give back.”
request Maria Williams to speak

Ten years ago, Maria Williams was watching television and saw a public service announcement (PSA) encouraging women to perform breast self-exams. Today, Maria has a decade of breast cancer survivorship under her belt. Inspired by the PSA, she had performed a breast self-exam and found a lump.

Maria remains grateful for that fateful television spot so many years ago, and to the American Cancer Society. “I am living proof,” she says, “that cancer research funded by the American Cancer Society saves lives.

Now that her son is a cancer survivor as well, Maria is doubly committed to the fight against cancer and to the inspiration that she feels Relay For Life provides. In Relay, and through her work with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), Maria finds “hope that one day we will have a cure for all cancers.”

“Cancer has inspired me to fight back,” she says. It has inspired me to celebrate life.” Maria fights back by acting as Relay Co-Chair and Entertainment Chair. Her two Relay teams have raised more than $12,000.

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Teresa Sotelo
Breast and Brain Cancer Survivor
El Centro, CA
Border Sierra Region
“Keep on fighting! Fight for life!”
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Diagnosed with breast and brain cancer at the age of 40, Teresa Sotelo drew strength from her family’s dedicated support. Enduring high-dose chemotherapy and radiation is never easy, but Teresa’s husband never left her side, becoming involved in every step of her treatment process. Her oldest daughter acted as her caregiver during her treatment.

“Having cancer helped me see the true worth and love that my family has for me,” Teresa says. “My family was truly concerned and did everything they could to help me regain my health.”

Teresa attended her first Relay For Life event with her husband at her side. “It was eye-opening,” she recalls. “The weather was bad and the winds were blowing really hard, which caused a lot of damage to tents and destroyed some of the luminaria. Yet it was symbolic of my cancer journey. Cancer has made some things difficult for me, but I have been able to overcome them and continue.”

Today, Teresa’s whole family participates in Relay, rallying around her to celebrate life- hers and their own.

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Wanda Zimmerman
Breast Cancer Survivor
Brentwood, CA
Greater Bay Area/Redwood Empire Region
“I participate. I communicate. I am involved!”
request Wanda Zimmerman to speak

When she was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma, a form of breast cancer, Wanda Zimmerman contacted the American Cancer Society. “The Society was very helpful throughout my battle,” she says. “Knowing they were there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was a huge relief.”

Wanda attended her first Relay For Life event while still undergoing treatment. The Luminaria Ceremony was particularly memorable. “I had never heard of Relay before and was surprised by what I saw and felt,” she recalls. “The support was tremendous and very moving.”

Later, when visiting http://www.cancer.org/, the Society’s web site, Wanda clicked on “Becoming a Volunteer” and her life has never been the same. She was contacted by the event chairs and has been on the Relay committee every year since.

“I have been so busy! She says. “Being involved has really helped me feel like I’m part of the community. I’ve made so many new friends and feel like I’m really fighting back and making a difference.”

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Carol Tortorelli
Breast Cancer Survivor
Hollister, CA
Silicon Valley/Central Coast Region
“I am living proof that research works and you can beat cancer.”
request Carol Tortorelli to speak

Carol Totorelli, a six-year breast cancer survivor, likes to “keep Relay For Life in people’s heads all of the time.” Just ask her family. Carol can tell you about any and all American Cancer Society programs, services, and events; that’s how dedicated she is to fighting back, not just for herself, for everyone.

Determined to beat cancer and not let it beat her, Carol carries the Society’s Where to Turn brochures in her car, just in case she meets someone who might need one. “I am living proof,” she says, “that research works and that you can beat cancer. I hope my survival can take some of the fear away from a person newly diagnosed with cancer.” Carol uses Relay For Life as a platform to help others and show them that there is hope.

But Carol also fights back for more personal reasons. “My husband is a cancer survivor, too,” she adds, “which makes me want to fight back even more. I want to make sure that everyone knows about the many resources and services offered by the American Cancer Society. Thanks to Relay, these resources have become much more visible.”

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Danella Putna
Burbank
Los Angeles Region
Sacral Ependymoma Survivor (cancer of the nerve sheath)
“I want to make sure people know that cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence, and that no one has to face it alone”
request Danella Putna to speak

Danella became involved with the American Cancer Society because she wanted to give back to her community in some way.  Relay For Life seemed like a good opportunity to make a difference.  During the event, Danella was deeply touched by three young children in the tent next to hers who had lost their mother to cancer.  Relay gave them an opportunity to celebrate their mother’s life. 

Three months later, at age 36, Danella was diagnosed with Sacral Ependymoma, a form of cancer affecting the nerve sheath.  “At first, “recalls Danella, “finding out that I had cancer turned my world upside down.  I spent all my time combining the internet for information, consulting with doctors, and focusing on what to do next.”

“The American Cancer Society Relay For Life was truly a source of support and information for me,” she says.  Danella soon found the strength to fight back against the disease.  That strength, she says, came from hope, trust, and faith: hope that there was a treatment that would work for her; trust in her doctor and in the decisions she had made about her treatments; and faith that if she did her best to survive the outcome would be good.

It’s been five years since Danella heard the words, “You have cancer.”  Her cancer is stable and she’s living a normal, full life.  “I continue to be involved with Relay in the hope that we will find a cure for my type of cancer; so my daughter will never have to worry about cancer as we grow old together.”

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Geri Stanley
Multiple Myeloma Survivor 
“Today I’m a Walking Miracle!  Thanks to Cancer Research my Cancer is treatable, and there is HOPE !!”
request Geri Stanley to speak 

March, 2004 I heard that dreadful phrase, you have CANCER.  I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma (bone marrow cancer).  

I learned this would be my biggest battle to fight and I have the battle scars to prove it.

First SCAR = Port

When I went to my oncologist he made an appointment to have a port inserted into my right chest. This is a great device to use especially if you are receiving a lot of chemo.  It can be used for chemo treatments and blood test.   My treatment consisted of being hooked up to a backpack, containing one bag of chemo, one bag of saline and one bag of anti-nausea medicine 24 hours a day.  I would travel to my doctor’s office the next day and exchange my empty bags for new ones.  After 2 months of treatment I could no longer take myself to the doctor’s office.  I wish I knew about the American Cancer Society’s program “Road to Recovery”, I could have used that service.  I did this for about 5 months and graduated to having chemo twice a week at the doctor’s office.  My last few months required just a pill daily and one more pill that I took since the beginning.  All of the treatments put me into remission.

Second SCAR = Hickman

This is a device inserted into my left chest, used to complete a bone marrow Transplant.  Fortunately, I was able to harvest my own cells and thus use them for my treatment.  All the procedures were to be at City of Hope.  This process consisted of a VERY STRONG chemo; described as almost bringing you to death and followed with my own harvest cells.  The process takes about 3 – 4 weeks.  Mine expanded to ICU 2 months in and out of induced coma and 1 ½ months in the regular hospital.  I experienced Sepses Shock and in lay man’s terms, close to death and surviving on machines and tubes connected to my body.  To be released from the hospital I had to get into a shower by myself and walk with a walker down one of the halls.

My last SCAR = You cannot see (because it is in my Heart) !!

Ten days after I got home from the hospital, my only son Sean was diagnosed with a rare form of terminal kidney cancer.  I admire the strength it took for him to fight.  Even when he was in the hospice bed he would struggle to get up to go to the bathroom by himself.  His  wife Kari called and suggested to come back to the house to see him.  He could barley talk and with a whisper he said, “I love you”.  I answered “I know you do and I love you too”.  Later that evening (July 29th) he went to heaven were one day I will see him again.

I CELEBRATE my life, I REMEMBER my son and I FIGHT BACK by being involved with RELAY FOR LIFE

Today I’m a Walking Miracle!  Thanks to Cancer Research my Cancer is treatable, and there is HOPE!!

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Heroes: Please provide us information about the speaking engagements you have secured and participated in.


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