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Cancer survivors discuss the importance of Relay for Life

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The COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t stop hope.

It may have forced the Relay for Life of Cole County to cancel all its in-person events, but the nonprofit persevered and offered “A Week of Hope” as an alternative to the annual relay.

Purple lights and flags lined two blocks of High Street this week, reminding people of those cancer has touched.

Several folks involved with the week shared their stories with the News Tribune.

Sara Davidson, a 20-year cancer survivor, has been active in promoting American Cancer Society programs and meeting with survivors ever since she overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she said.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma originates from white blood cells called lymphocytes, which either produce antibodies or destroy cells that have been attacked by viruses.

As the cancer progresses, it limits the body’s ability to fight infection.

“I am a ‘Hero of Hope,’ and I have gone to different communities to share my journey,” Davidson said. “(I) hope it will give someone else the strength (to realize) that they can beat their cancer.”

The other cancer survivors Davidson has met as a volunteer with ACS have inspired her, she said.

Having overcome cancer, she continued, Davidson feels like she can accomplish anything.

“I thank God for giving me strength to fight my battle,” she said, “as well as giving my family and friends support during my journey.”

Debbie Sartain has survived cancer — twice.

She is a 19-year breast cancer survivor and a four-year parathyroid cancer survivor.

Breast cancer can occur in women and, less often, in men. Symptoms may include a lump in the breast, bloody discharge from a nipple, or changes in the shape or texture of the breast. Treatment depends on severity but may include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Parathyroid cancer is rare. It occurs when malignant cells form in the tissues of a parathyroid gland — pea-sized organs found in the neck. Parathyroid glands help regulate calcium and phosphorous in the human body.

Up to 85 percent of people with parathyroid cancer survive at least five years after diagnosis. It recurs in about half of survivors. High numbers of people in whom the disease recurs also have at least five years of survival.

Cancer is not new to Sartain’s family. Her mother died of pancreatic cancer.

“One thing I learned that was very valuable as a survivor was support,” she said. “I was fortunate to have a lot of family and friends, but having the ACS office for support and information, and being able to talk with other survivors and knowing that I can fight this — fight just like them — was priceless.”

In one way or another, Sartain has served on the Relay for Life Survivor Committee for 11 years. During those years, she has enjoyed rewards earned by giving back to her community.

She helped begin collections of toys to be given to children at University of Missouri Hospital and collections of items to be gifted to residents of Hope Lodge, a place where cancer patients and their families may stay if they have to travel more than 40 miles to receive treatment.

“I have enjoyed being on the Survivor Committee, as I have met wonderful survivors and caregivers. I have also made some lifelong friendships with the wonderful people who serve on the Survivor Committee with me,” Sartain said.

The top individual fundraiser this year was Brenda Rieke, who is also one of the co-leads of this year’s fundraiser.

Rieke, whose sister is a cancer survivor, began volunteering during the Relay for Life nine years ago. Then, about six years ago, her brother, Michael, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

He died a year later.

“I formed a Relay team with my family called Hummingbird Heroes Fighting Cancer,” Rieke said. “The hummingbird has special significance to our family and is known as a healer if you are ever in need — a reminder to have faith and enjoy all that you do.”

As an organizer of this year’s Relay, Rieke understands the challenges have been more difficult than in other years.

“I believe the biggest challenge this year was how to keep our beloved Relay alive since we could not (attend) in person,” she said. “Cancer does not stop, so neither could we.”

https://www.newstribune.com/news/local/story/2020/sep/20/cancer-survivors-discuss-importance-relay-life/842075/

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