Then I remember the summer before I entered 7th grade, my grandfather was out to dinner and I got a phone call. My grandfather had a heart attack and was on his way to the hospital. I told my parents and they left immediately. Before they got to the hospital, he was gone. It was during that time that I found out that my grandfather had been "very sick inside" with cancer.
Not much longer after that, I learned that my grandmother (on my father's side) was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in the hospital having surgery and I heard my family discussing how the doctor's said she only had 6 months to live. I remember walking into my grandmother's hospital room and wondering how anyone could possibly know how long my grandmother was going to live. Did this doctor "know" my grandmother? She was one tough cookie that was for sure. If there was anyone that held our family together, it was my grandmother. She didn't take anything from anyone. All I could think was how in the world this "cancer" thing could take her away. I remember asking her if she was scared. She looked at me and nodded, "a little bit", she said. Then she told me that no matter what any doctor said, she was going to be there for much longer than 6 months. "I will be there when you, my first grandchild, graduates from high school" (6 years later), she said. She said it with such conviction, I believed her completely. Grandma kept her promise and passed away 1 month after I graduated from high school.
As I got older, I met more and more adults who were being diagnosed with this horrible disease. Some had colon cancer, others lung cancer. Some had skin cancer, others had liver cancer. Then a young man, my brother's best friend growing up, who was just a few months away from graduating from high school began to feel ill. His health started to deteriorate quite repaidly. He was soon diagnosed with Leukemia and passed away three weeks later. He was only 17.
When I sat in the room at Relay for Life University last weekend, we were asked to close our eyes and raise our hands if our lives had been touched by cancer. As I sat there I thought not only of all of the loved ones that lost their battle with cancer, but all of those that are fighting right now and those that fought and won. Cancer is such a horrible disease. It doesn't discriminate. It can destroy a family, financially and emotionally, in almost the blink of an eye. It's scary and honestly I hate the disease with a passion. But what can I do about it?
Can I raise money for research? Sure! We've made some great advances. More and more people are fighting and beating this disease because of all of the research that has been done. Do I think we can do more? Absolutely! But my focus isn't just about research. We need to educate everyone about this disease. We need to be able to talk about it, not just on T.V., but in our families and with our friends. It can no longer be the word that my family would whisper, as if you said it out loud, you would catch it. We need to stop being afraid to talk about things that scare us. We have to teach people about screenings; about how to be strong and make the right choices. We need to know that it is okay to tell a doctor when something "just isn't right" and get a second and third opinion if we have to. We need support systems for the whole family, and the patients, so that we can be strong and fight together.
So when people ask me why I have decided to Relay this year, it's simple. I want everyone I know to TALK about cancer. I want everyone to learn about the screenings and resources that are available. I want people to know about the symptoms; to pay attention to their bodies and notice when something is "different". I want to bring cancer to the forefront where we can attack it emotionally, financially and medically. The worst thing we can do is keep it as "our little secret".
So this weekend, when my family and I participate in San Tan Valley's first Relay for Life, it will be for you; your family; your friends; your teachers; your co-workers. It will be for all of you that have had your lives changed because of cancer. It will be for my family; my friends; my teachers and my co-workers. I will honor the fight that each of you have gone through and I will continue to fight every day, every month and every year until cancer becomes a disease of the past.
San Tan Valley Relay for Life
Combs High School