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When Gail Osteen told me last week that she had no history of any kind of cancer in any of her family, I was more than surprised.
I didn't know any such person existed, because it seems for as long as I can remember cancer has been a very real, and very unwelcome, facet of my life.
My first encounter came when I was 11 years old when my mother was diagnosed with cervical/uterine cancer. I remember it all well: the fact they sent me away for the summer while she underwent tests, lest I should ask questions; how they brought me back at the end of the summer and told me the news; calling a minister who was my sixth grade reading teacher and asking him at 6:30 the morning of the surgery to pray for her; sitting with her in the hospital (and lying about my age-back then you had to be 12 to be a visitor, even if it were your mother) while daddy rested; wondering if she would die because she chose to not have chemotherapy or radiation.
My brother Eugene died in 1998, at age 47, from lung cancer that had metasized to his brain. The last month of his life was agonizing and he had very few lucid moments. But I was blessed that he had one in my presence after I had driven all night to see him in what would be the last week of his life. He recognized me, told me he loved me and then asked why I hadn't brought the children.
And of course, you all know the one that hit the hardest, came as the biggest shock and changed my life forever was when son Nick was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease the summer he was 11.
His story is one that I tell often because it was the single event that changed the face of our family forever.
We were blessed, and I don't use that term lightly, because the cancer was found when doctors were treating him for something else. He had no symptoms and it was purely fate, luck, divine intervention-call it what you will, that doctors at the National Institutes of Health biopsied a lymph node while looking for the source of his Cushing's Syndrome.
Long story short, after six intense months of chemo, Nick was declared in remission. Last year marked the 11th year since diagnosis and his 10th year as a cancer survivor.
In those years, I have tried not to dwell on that dark period in our lives, but I am forever reminded every time I look across the room and see his picture smiling back at me.
This time of the year, as the Relay for Life approaches, I tend to remember a lot more.
Doing the survivor stories over the past month has brought it all home once again, and I confess I have not been the objective reporter, but an empathizing comrade who shed more than one tear as these people recalled their own dark periods.
For some like Cheryl Oliver, Gail Osteen and Ed Armitage, their futures are bright. Jim Troke, whose cancer has returned, is making the most of every single day and his words have echoed often that "any day above ground is a good day."
And then there is Ginny Allen, only two weeks ago declared in remission, who knows that her lymphoma could return without warning, just as it came on.
Each of these people, survivors in the purest form, are an inspiration to the rest of us that faith, attitude and the need to fight back can be the best ammunition when battling cancer.
But it will always be Nick who inspired me first, and most, to live each day with zest and to sacrifice for the needs of others. It is Nick who constantly reminds me that God has a purpose for each of our lives and we never know what curve ball may be thrown our way.
Nick doesn't reflect much on that period in his life. He chooses instead to focus on the now, rather than the past. It is the way he copes, the way he celebrates,
Now, at 23, he is embarking on the next step of his life's journey. He will do an internship in resort management beginning May 17 in Lake Tahoe, Calif. It is a long way from home, family and friends, but even further from the little pudgy boy who fought-and won-a rigorous battle with cancer 12 years ago.
This step of the journey is made possible thanks to the millions of people across the United States who devote their time, energy and money to make Relay for Life the major source of fund-raising for the American Cancer Society.
Because of those selfless people who keep the Relay alive, the ACS has perfected research that has kept my son alive.
And if that's not a good enough reason to Relay, I don't know what is.
Carolyn Risner is editor of the Chiefland Citizen. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org except this Friday night when she can be found at Chiefland High School with the Relay for Life. Won't you join her as she supports those who Remember. Fight Back. Celebrate?