It was one of the saddest, but also one of the proudest moments of my life.
Sadly, and proudly, it has happened twice in the past 20 years.
It started 39 years ago. I was diagnosed with cancer – malignant melanoma. The tumor was rated as Clark’s Level 3. That means that the cancer, that started as a mole in the small of my back, had grown through the first two layers of my skin and could possibly have started spreading into the lymph system and beyond.
The doctors recommended a wide excision — removal of a large portion of the skin and flesh that surrounded the primary cancer (the mole) and removal of tissue all the way down to the depth of the superficial fascia, or, basically, right down to the muscle of my lower back. Depending on which oncology reference book I looked at, I had as much as a 50/50 chance of survival or as low as a 15 percent chance of surviving five-years.
To this day, it looks like a shark took a big bite out of my back. Josh and Danny used to charge their friends a quarter to come into the house to see the shark-bite on their Dad’s back. We would usually split the money.
As a cancer survivor, I became involved with the Clinton County Relay for Life fundraiser when the program first started at the Wilmington High School running track.
Near the beginning of each Relay for Life weekend event, they have what they call the Survivors Lap. People who are in a fight for their lives against cancer or who have fought and won the battle against this killer disease are invited to walk the first lap of the evening. I have had the God-given privilege of walking in the survivors lap since the very earliest days of Relay for Life.
Then, 20 years after my diagnosis, my mom, Adda Belle Riley, was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. After extensive surgery and rehabilitation, she is doing well. Although her life changed forever with that diagnosis, she still has enthusiasm and enjoys her life. She cherishes every day that God gives her.
Several years ago, Mom and I held hands as we walked together during the Relay for Life survivor’s lap. We both cried as we shared the walk and shared the joy of surviving. It was a sad moment, and we were proud.
Nearly 20 years later, just last year, it happened again.
My sweet, innocent little 2-year-old grandson, Clayton, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, cancer of the eye. Clayton had just been released from Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati a few days before the Relay for Life weekend. My daughter, Jessi, wants everyone to know and understand the warning signs of retinoblastoma. She wants Clayton to live life to the fullest. We are all determined that losing an eye to cancer will not keep Clayton from enjoying everything that life has to offer.
So, with gauze and tape still covering the empty socket where his right eye had been, I carried my grandson during the survivor’s lap of Relay for Life. Tears filled my eyes as we walked. Clayton wasn’t real sure what was going on, but he held me and snuggled with me as we walked on that chilly, June night. Several people lining the walkway also cried at the sight of our beautiful grandson who was just beginning his battle.
Seven months later, following months of extensive chemotherapy, Clayton’s oncologist has declared him cancer-free. Praise God for that.
Clayton is my new cancer-fighting superhero. It saddens me that he has suffered the pain and sickness of surgery and chemotherapy, but I’m so proud of the strength, the courage and the love this little guy has shown everyone during his battle against cancer.
Everyone is urged to support Relay for Life. Donate some money. Walk a few laps. Donate your time. Join a team or get a team together and walk throughout the entire event.
Donate something really nice for the silent auction. Plenty of money will be raised, but to reach the goal of $60,500 everyone needs to help with various donations or time, money and raffle/auction prizes.
Everyone knows someone who has died of cancer. Everyone knows someone who has survived cancer. Everyone wants to find a cure for cancer. Let’s work together to find a cure. Let’s also celebrate life.
Come to the J.W. Denver Williams Park on Saturday, June 25 at 11 a.m. The event will last until 11 p.m. Come and help raise money to find a cure for cancer. For more information, follow our Clinton County Relay for Life team on Facebook, or call 937-260-5679 or email Jodi Zerbe at [email protected]
Someday, a cure will be found. In a petri dish or test tube, in a research lab somewhere a cure will be found. How great it would be if the funds for that petri dish or test tube came for our own Clinton County Relay for Life.
Come. Instead of allowing cancer to continue for one more generation, let’s work to find a cure.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.