LAURINBURG — For many who battle with cancer, the disease has already touched their family by claiming the life of a parent, grandparent, or sibling.
But a growing number of cancer sufferers have found an extended family through those also undergoing treatment, or through the condition of survivorship.
Carol Lewis was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 53 after a routine mammogram found an abnormality.
“That c-word, when you hear it, it’s really scary,” Lewis said. “I’ve had two first cousins to die with cancer in their early forties. We were the same age and they were like a brother and sister to me.”
Lewis’ cancer was detected at an early stage, and she remembers more about the people she encountered during her course of treatment at Scotland Cancer Center than she does about the 28 radiation sessions.
“If anybody ever finds out that they have any kind of cancer, this is the best place to go because everybody cares about you here and the staff treats you like family,” she said. “They’re like angels.”
Lewis, along with some 200 other cancer survivors aged 19 to 96 rallied together on Thursday in preparation for Scotland County’s 17th Relay for Life event on Sept. 27.
Scotland County’s Relay has consistently raised in excess of $200,000 in recent years for the American Cancer Society — and for the last five years, has raised more money than any other community in the 35,000-40,000 population bracket. Last year Scotland County received Relay’s Power of Hope award, for the third year, in recognition of the number of survivors involved.
“Your Relay has grown from a small group of teams, survivors, sponsors, and volunteers to a vast family of hardworking, caring individuals proudly supporting one of the largest groups of cancer survivors participating in any Relay in the United States,” Relay co-chair Stewart Thomas told the group.
Opening ceremonies for Scotland County’s 2013 Relay for Life event will begin at 6 p.m. at Scotland High School’s Pate Stadium. This year’s Relay survivor banquet, held at Laurinburg Presbyterian Church, was attended by some 350 people, including survivors and their family members and caregivers.
Scotland Health Care System radiation oncologist Ernest Helms, who also addressed the survivors’ gathering, said that Relay for Life serves a dual purpose — firstly to raise money for research that improves the efficacy of cancer treatment.
“There’s really a revolution in the way we understand cancer biology, and based on that we’re able to develop targeted therapies for patients’ cancer,” Helms said. “We may have five different people with the same cancer, but they get different treatments because the biology of their cancer may be different.”
Helms added that many cancer survivors experience depression upon completion of their treatment when they leave the supportive, encouraging environment of a treatment center.
“Relay allows patients to get together with their families and caregivers in a place outside of the hospital and away from the chemo chairs and away from the linear accelerators,” he said. “It just kind of affirms the fact that cancer is not a defeat. It’s often a reminder of how precious life is and what’s truly important in life.”