Cancer survivors relate for life

June 21, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

A thick band of menacing clouds hung like a big gray canopy over the South Hagerstown High School athletic field Friday night, but the crowd gathered for Washington County's eighth annual Relay for Life was undaunted.

"Rain doesn't bother me too much," said Sharpsburg resident Larry Wegner, the organizer the evening's festivities, a major fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society.

The cancer survivors engaged in the sometimes wacky activities were, as one said, "just happy to be here."

At 53, Williamsport resident Andrea Myers has never known what life without the threat of cancer is like. First diagnosed with cancer at the age of 19 months, she spent more of her childhood in the hospital than at home, she said.


"Back then, the treatments were all experimental," she said.

She was told she would never have children because of all the medications she had been given, but she beat the odds. She has a 32-year-old daughter, a 28-year-old son and two granddaughters.

And, after several surgeries and 26 blood transfusions, "I'm down to one pill a night," she said. "That's modern medicine."

Mary Wolfe of Martinsburg, W.Va., was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 23 years ago at age 15. Doctors removed an 11-pound tumor, and Wolfe began chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Her surgeries prevented any chance of conception.

"My worst thing was I wanted to have children," she said, "but I got my baby."

Her adopted son is now 8 years old. Wolfe has been cancer-free for 10 years.

Emma Parks Fleming of Hancock is still fighting the fight. Diagnosed two years ago with the rarest and most aggressive form of breast cancer, she's already lived four times as long as doctors told her she would.

"I asked God for a sign," she said, blinking back tears. "If I was gonna live, I asked him to send me rainbows and butterflies."

Soon, friends unaware of her conversation with God were sending cards with butterflies and rainbows; butterflies began fluttering around her car and a friend sent her a macrame rainbow.

All the survivors said faith, a sense of humor and determination are vital to dealing with cancer.

"Never give up hope," Wolfe said. "There's always hope. You've gotta fight it with everything you've got."

"You have to learn to look to your faith in God," said Wegner, a 5-year survivor of Hodgkins lymphoma. "We look to him every day and thank him for another day."

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