Why I Relay: Stephanie’s story

Editor’s Note: From now until the Culpeper Relay for Life event in May, we will be sharing stories of some of those involved and why they are involved in this nationwide effort to end cancer.

Many walk in The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life because they, personally, are undergoing the fight of cancer. But others do so because they have a family member or friend who has cancer. One woman, named Stephanie, does it because cancer has infiltrated her family with a force, striking a half dozen of her loved ones.

Her first experience was with her grandmother.

“As a young child, I respected my grandmother’s strength and spirit. I did not think anything could break her, but cancer proved me wrong. Before her last breath, she wanted to see our faces and touch our hands one last time.

“Cancer refused to end with my grandmother. As I share the rest of my story, you will understand why I relay. Less than a year later after losing [my grandmother], I would hear that ugly word again. It was found too late, and my husband’s uncle was gone. I knew nothing of a survivor.”

Unfortunately, for Stephanie, it would be quite a while before the word “survivor” had meaning for her.

“In 2008, it came crashing down on me. It was my husband’s aunt this time, in little ways, she reminded me of my mother, always trying to be there for you; ready to put a smile on your face. Best of all, telling you some great stories. You could walk into a room, knowing already a story she was telling, and wanting to hear it again–knowing with each time she told it, it got better and better.”

Her aunt underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, afterward looking a little better and smiling a little more. Stephanie said, “For the first time, hope was in the air. [However], that feeling was short-lived. Her lung cancer came back with a vengeance.”

When her aunt died, Stephanie missed “her laughter, her smile, and most of all, her stories.” The lesson she had learned thus far was “spend as much time together as you can.”

Stephanie, greatly disheartened, had two devastating experiences of family members with cancer.

“I never wanted to hear that word again. I did not think my heart could take it. God knows what you can handle. He will never give you more than He knows you can handle, even when you feel all is lost. These are the words I kept playing in my head, when my mother called me one February morning.”

Stephanie’s mother shared that she had a lump in her breast and was going to have a biopsy. It was then that Stephanie knew that she would have to be strong, “I will be her rock.”

When the results came back, Stephanie said, “My world as I knew it was no more. My mother had cancer. Stage One aggressive cancer. My experience with cancer up to now–not so great. I was determined to spend as much time with her as possible. If she needed me, I would be there.”

And Stephanie was. She was with her during surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. She was her mother’s “rock.” But one day, she had to be strong when she least expected it. It was when her mother began to lose her hair, a possible side effect to chemotherapy.

“No one warned her about the physical and emotional pain that goes with it. I think that was one of the hardest days. It’s like you lose your identity of who you are. You see the cancer just take over a little more each day.

“On the other hand, I had never seen my mother so brave as she sat there and shaved her head. She took control of the cancer. It would no longer decide how much hair she would lose today. She would strip it of that honor. When we were done, she cried.” But Stephanie reminded her mother that she was beautiful.

Although Stephanie’s mother had to undergo additional chemotherapy sessions, resulting in allergic reactions, Stephanie said that four years ago, “I heard my mother say those words I thought I would never hear, ‘I am in remission.’ She is still going strong.”

So Stephanie relays for all her family members and friends who have had cancer.

“They showed me all is not lost. There is something we can do, and cancer is not a death sentence.”

Alice Felts is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach her at alicerfelts@gmail.com.

Plan for May

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life is the world’s largest and most impactful fundraising event to end cancer. It unites communities across the globe to celebrate people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and take action to finish the fight once and for all. Today, with the support of thousands of volunteers, the American Cancer Society is helping save more than 400 lives a day.

Culpeper’s event is next year but the volunteers and teams that make it happen work year round. To sign up, donate or get involved in Culpeper’s Relay for Life, contact Christina Ballard at Christina.Ballard@CANCER.org or 240.994.2863

To date: 32 teams and 260 participants have raised $14,284.76

Relay For Life of Culpeper County
Eastern View High School
Saturday, May 16, 2015
11 a.m.-7 a.m.