I Am Pretty Freakin’ Sick of This.

Relay for Life - 5
Image by portorikan via Flickr

Cancer Sucks.

It’s a battle-cry of the mighty group of committed volunteers I work with on the  Relay for Life committee but it was also for the better part of five years the thought that woke me in the morning, and knocked me out at night.

Statistically, it’s probable that you know someone with, or affected by cancer. There’s no Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon here – you probably have one degree at best. This disease is no respecter of race, age, maritial status or parentage. It kills mommies, babies and sweet old ladies that have never done anything to anyone.

My degree of separation is  one. I have never been diagnosed,  but I have lost more loved ones to this disease than anyone should have to bear. No daughter should have to know what a condom catheter is or why her Dad needs it and how to put it on because the nurse is busy. No granddaughter should have to clean feces off their granny’s hiney while they both wish they were anywhere but there, mortified at the circumstances.  I’m not whining about my plight, mind you, I’m saying that something needs to be done.

I believe that Relay for Life is a beacon of hope for those touched by this disease, whether they are fighting back, a survivor, a caregiver or simply a friend or loved one.

The first year that I attended Relay for Life in April 2007  I was a little numb – and I don’t remember much except my own tears and a lot of purple. My Daddy, Michael Honiker, died on June 9, 2006. His autopsy showed that he was cancer-free after a month of in-hospital chemo, but his heart was weakened and he suffered a massive heart attack the night before he was to be released to go home.

The same day my Daddy died, my Grandmother, Gloria Goss, was diagnosed with throat cancer. She smoked for 55 years and quit the day she learned she had Emphysema in 2001. She quite literally beat the odds at least five times – it was amazing. Her first diagnosis in 2001 with lung cancer came only by the grace of God. She went to the hospital for a cardiac stress test, was told she needed a triple bypass, left with stents because her emphysema wouldn’t allow anesthesia – and here’s the amazing part – her cardiologist caught the tiniest speck on her lung and sent her to an oncologist.  She had 2/3 of her left lung removed as an outpatient at a doctor’s office in Fullerton. He’s only one of 3 that can perform that surgery laproscopically.  She beat lung cancer – a near impossible feat – and learned to live with reduced lung function, which was hard since she lived at 5000 feet altitude in Lake Arrowhead. In 2003 when we moved back to Padre Island, she came with us and loved everything – but the humidity. When she was diagnosed with throat cancer, Ken and I became her primary caregivers – commuting back and forth to California, passing each other like ships in the night, seeing each other for only 6 days out of 7 months, taking turns handling her affairs and needs – and, most importantly, loving her through it all. She passed away at home October 17, 2007.

I relay for them. I relay to raise money for the American Cancer Society research so that the new treatments aren’t toxic enough to kill the patient along with the cancer. My Daddy won the cancer battle, but lost his fight for life. cancer (I will not capitalize the word) will not win the war if I can help it.

I relay for my  Grandmother, who had wonderful care at Loma Linda University Medical Center. They are on the cutting edge of proton radiation therapy and it gave her added years with us – it’s less invasive, more specific and carries less side effects.  We were blessed with the gift of time because of it. Time to go to the beach, have shrimp boils, enjoy sunsets and laugh. We laughed a lot. More funding would make that kind of therapy available to more people than just those close to MD Anderson, Loma Linda, John’s Hopkins and Stanford. We were blessed to be close to Loma Linda, but most are not.

For my Stepdad, Mark Connolly, who died of liver cancer at just 51 years old – his diagnosis came too late for any treatment and he suffered more than he needed to. For his mother, my grandma, Merle Connolly, who was a tireless devoted volunteer for the Oakland Children’s Hospital, and was one of the most wonderful selfless women I ever knew. She was the first of my many loved ones to go.

And I relay for those still fighting back: I relay for Ken’s aunt June, and his mother Pat – and their ongoing battle with breast cancer. For my friend Carrie’s son Troy. I relay for our friend Mike Jones, now a survivor.

I can’t save the ones that are gone. And so, mostly, I relay for my daughters. I relay because there is a history of this disease, in almost every part of the body, in our genetic makeup. I relay to raise money so they can benefit from research and treatments in the future and for education and awareness now. cancer is preventable in many cases with the right information and action.

This is too important to leave to someone else. I have to do my part. And so, I relay. I join with others with similar stories and struggles and together we offer each other comfort, encouragement, information – and  hope. Hope that one day this disease will be gone from the face of God’s planet and that the small part we played helped bring that about. I believe it’s possible.

Has cancer touched your life? Tell me your story in the comments and visit cancer.org for resources for patients, caregivers and survivors – the money we raise at Relay events make these services available – and they’re awesome – rides to appointments, resources for wigs, mammograms  – whatever the need it, chances are there’s a free resource. You can make a donation here if you want. If you would like to join in your local Relay for Life event (there are thousands nationwide), visit RelayforLife.org and search for the closest one to you. If you’re in Port Aransas, TX and want to hang out with the coolest committee that bleeds purple, visit relayporta.com and get signed up. Or email me!