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Relay brings help, hope to cancer patients, families

Hope. It’s the reason Mark Frank volunteers with Relay For Life. Over 20 years ago, Frank’s two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Susan was diagnosed with leukemia. Even with a bone marrow transplant, Susan’s chances of survival were only 30 to 40 percent.

“Life became a roller coaster for us,” he recalls. There were rounds of chemo that put her into remission. A bone marrow transplant would still be necessary for any real chance of long-term survival.

Her brothers were not perfect matches as donors; but a stranger turned out to that perfect match for Susan.

After three weeks of close monitoring following the transplant, the doctors finally began to see Susan’s counts “taking over.” On Christmas Eve 1989, the little girl was discharged

“We lived from month to month just hoping for continued good news. You never get over that fear,” Frank remembers.

Hope was the thing the Frank family held tightly to, hope and prayers.

Hopes and prayers that were answered.

Susan is now 23, a college graduate who is living a normal life, her dad says with a smile.

“We’ve all had family and friends impacted by cancer. We know some don’t survive it; but we also know there are successes like Susan,” Frank says.

“That’s why I work with Relay. Research through the American Cancer Society helped make a difference for her and other children. Just two years before she was diagnosed, this type of leukemia was considered to be fatal. I want to give other people hope, too.”

Samantha Stabler, Team Development Chair for the Butler County Relay For Life and a longtime Relay volunteer, reminds local citizens monies raised through Relay benefit the community in many ways.

“We are able to educate the public, assist in early detection of certain cancers, and directly assist cancer patients and their families,” Stabler says.

According to Stabler, three area gas stations provide 28 gallons of gas per month to cancer patients traveling for treatment. The ACS reimburses the stations for the gas. The ACS also provides free lodging at Hope Lodge in Birmingham.

“Three Butler County families got 45 nights free at the lodge. It’s a wonderful, comfortable place to stay as a family during doctors’ visits and treatments,” Stabler says.

A total of 27 Butler County residents have already been assisted in 2010 with goods and services, including wigs, mastectomy bras, scarves, hats and other items.

“We had a total of 274 Butler County residents getting assistance through the ACS in 2009. When you support our Relay For Life, you are giving a cancer patient a chance for another birthday,” Stabler says.

The Butler County Relay For Life for the American Cancer Society is set for May 7 at 6 p.m. at the Greenville YMCA. Currently, 35 teams from across the county will be participating.