Why I Relay: Colleen Waller’s story

Editorâ??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.

If anyone knows how important receiving emotional support is, it would be Colleen Waller. When she was 15 years old, her grandmother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. For a year, Hospice helped her grandmother, who remained “independent and fierce at the end.” As she watched every stage of the disease, Colleen said, “That’s when I first understood and realized that cancer is a big thing.” Colleen said, “It really hit me in a lot of ways. It kind of scared me.”

A few years later, when Colleen was 23, her father complained of stomach pain and went to the doctor. Although he had an MRI a few years prior, the results were not logged. This time, after a two week hospital observation, another doctor found a large stomach mass. Colleen’s father died a week later.

Married with two little babies, Colleen made the most of that last week, spending lots of time with her father. Being the only relative close by, she had to make all of the decisions for him.

Although her father was “not real religious,” he wrote a diary in his Bible, noting various verses which meant a great deal to him. At his bedside, Colleen read his journal entries. When she was finished, she looked up at her father and saw that he had passed away. She believes that he was waiting for her to read the verses while he was still alive. Although his death hurt her a lot, Colleen said, “I didn’t want him to be in pain.”

A few more years went by and Coleen was 31, in the middle of a divorce with three young children, and between jobs. It was a lonely and stressful time in her life. She describes this time as being in “my own little world by myself.”

Trying to take care of herself, along with her children, she had an annual check-up, with a biopsy, but since she was changing jobs she had to wait 90 days for her new insurance to kick in. When she did become qualified under new insurance, Colleen underwent additional tests performed by a new doctor. It was then that she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

When Colleen learned of her diagnosis, she had been active for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life for a year as a member of the team, “Scouting for a Cure.” And she considers this involvement a blessing. Having now met a lot of people, she found the team to be a great support, which is important for a single mother. Considering her father’s experience and her own, Colleen said, “I think it is definitely good to get a second opinion.”

Colleen underwent surgery and now goes for checkups every six months. When she learned of the status of her health, Colleen said, “I thought of my dad. I want to get old. I want grandbabies. I wasn’t going to leave my kids. I was going to fight.”

During her life, Colleen said, “I have learned to be strong.” And she now uses her strength to help others who need support. She recommends that one should not give up and should reach out to others. Not only does she speak from personal experience, she serves as an advocate for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network (CAN). CAN is a grassroots effort to be involved in lobbying activities, participating in media campaigns, and conducting training programs. It’s another way for Colleen to fight.

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 this 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: 36 teams and 284 participants have raised $19,488.79

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