Relay for Life has deep meaning to Walkers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 9, 2000

A little more than five years ago, Kathy Atchison was in a fight for her life. The mother of two was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after finding a lump during a self exam, and when doctors confirmed that the tumor was not only malignant but that cancer had also spread to her body's lymph node system, Kathy said she didn't know what to do.

"I panicked. My youngest daughter was in the sixth grade, and my oldest was a senior in high school, I didn't know what I was going to do," she said. "From everything I knew about cancer then, there was no way out."

For Kathy, finding out she had cancer was a shock, as it is to most people, and after doctors explained there are effective treatments to fight most forms of cancer she began to realize there was something she could do.

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"I felt sorry for myself for about two days and then I realized that I wasn't going to give up without a fight," she said. "That's when the battle began."

Kathy began intensive therapy to combat the cancer invading her body. She says she knew that with courage she could face the combination of strong

chemicals and radiation therapy that would later save her life. And, she said she knew the support of her family would help her overcome the emotional turmoil the disease had caused.

"My girls were my strength," she said. "They did everything for me and supported me through it all."

Kathy asked doctors to give her the strongest drugs possible during chemo-therapy, which often made her sick, yet she still continued to work at R.L. Austin Elementary as a library assistant. During the four month battery of treatments, Kathy missed only four days of work.

Later, she travelled to Montgomery to undergo 36 separate radiation treatments. She never missed a single one, and experienced no side effects from the treatment.

"The doctors were amazed at the amount of radiation I had received without any burning or side effects at all," she said.

In fact, the only side effects Kathy experienced at all were the loss of her hair for a few months, and a lung disorder that developed about two years later that makes her feel out of breath. This, she says, she controls with medication and breathing exercises and will probably have to deal with for the rest of her life.

"I told the doctors I could live with that," she said. "If I could get rid of cancer I could live with the rest of it."

While undergoing treatment, Kathy received help from the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery Program. Road to Recovery helps cancer patients with travel expenses to and from treatment by providing vouchers for gasoline from local service stations. Kathy said she applied for the assistance as soon as she found out it was available, and didn't expect to be treated as kindly as she was.

"Each day the people at the gas stations were so nice to me when I would use the vouchers," she said. "They all got to know me and would ask how I was doing. It was a wonderful feeling because they seemed to know what I was going through."

Kathy has been cancer free for five years now, and is a true success story as to how the Road to Recovery program can help people with the pain and expense of dealing with cancer treatment.

Road to Recovery is funded locally, through the American Cancer Society and monies raised each year through Relay for Life.

Kathy has been captaining a team for Relay for Life for four years now, and she says it is just one way she tries to give back for the help she received.

Her team, Central Community Walkers, is made up of friends and family members who are connected with the Central community. Each team member has had at least one family member face a battle with cancer.

Through a variety of fundraising events including bake sales, yard sales and road blocks, the team raised more than $4,000 for Relay for Life last year, and has plans for another big year.

"Until you have been the recipient of some of the money you don't know how important it is," Kathy said. "I think everybody should get involved because cancer knows no age; no color, it doesn't matter."

The American Cancer Society is currently seeking teams and team members to participate in Relay for Life 2000. Butler County Chairman Joan Reynolds said the organization needs to raise $100,000 to meet its goal, but that participation is the most important thing.

"Relay for Life is as much an awareness-raiser about progress against cancer as it is a fundraiser," she said. "Many of the participants will be people who have survived cancer themselves and their involvement is proof of the progress that has been made not only in survival rates, but also in the quality of life after treatment."

Reynolds said the funds raised will enable the society to expand its support to cancer patients and their families, offer more educational programs and fund more cancer research programs to help fight the disease.

Reynolds said the event will be held this year on May 5, on the LBW campus in Greenville, and that anyone interested in participating can join in. She said registering a team now will give participants a head start on raising the funds each team is responsible for.

Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society's signature event nationally where participants walk or run around a track relay-style over night to raise money. The family-oriented event encourages participants to camp out around the track and take part in family fun activities.

To register a team for Relay for Life 2000, contact Reynolds at 382-2696, Angela James at 382-9896, or Lucy McGowin at 382-6137.