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RELAY FOR LIFE: Survivors have great stories to tell about their experiences

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By Stephen Thomas

 HEBRON ESTATES - The Bullitt County Relay for Life has seen many changes over the years.

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Most recently the venue has switched from the actual track at North Bullitt High School to a more condensed parking lot area with a makeshift track, which many patrons seem to favor for its proximity to all of the ongoing activities.

The one remaining constant throughout the years is the gathering of local cancer survivors and their caregivers. The annual Relay Survivor and Caregiver victory laps mean more than just a celebration of victory, it’s their reward.

Each survivor and caregiver has their own unique story to share and celebrate with one another, and with the supporting Bullitt County community. Here are a few of those stories:

 

Friends in Need, Friends Indeed

Shepherdsville residents Grace and Don Elder are enjoying their 47th year together as a married couple, with a son and three granddaughters.

The last three years have been extra special, after Don survived a bout with prostate cancer.

According to Don, a regular doctor’s check-up detected the issue. Grace said doctors noticed an irregularity during a previous visit, and the second check showed advancement.

“The tests showed it was aggressive, stage two,” Don recalled. “The PSA check-up is probably the key. People should keep up with that. I didn’t have any symptoms.”

“That’s why we were shocked about it,” Grace added. “We were shocked because there were no symptoms.”

Don faced an aggressive battle, including 45 radiation treatments, as well as hormone therapy.

“In six months I went from being diagnosed to being cancer-free,” he said.

According to Don, there was no prostate cancer history in his family, to his knowledge. Both of his parents had different types of cancer.

“I can’t say for sure, but I think mine was more environmental, from my job,” he said.

Don was attending his third Relay as a survivor, with Grace by his side. She has attended many more events in the past as a former employee of Peoples Bank.

“Before I retired, I used to help count the money,” she said. “We’ve been coming for years. I like the atmosphere. I know others in similar situations, but there’s support out there. The Relay is like a family, there’s so much camaraderie.”

Sharing in that friendship was Shepherdsville resident Stephanie Rockhold, a family friend and two-time kidney cancer survivor.

“I had my right kidney removed in 2005,” Stephanie said. “I had a tumor removed from the left one in 2015.”

Like Don, Stephanie was fortunate to have her cancer found, both times, during regular doctor visits. She also had cancer history on both sides of her family, but also different kinds than kidney.

“I’ve never had symptoms,” she said. “The doctors found it on accident. God was watching over me. I knew Don had issues, too, and he said a prayer for me.”

“Prayers work,” Don added.

Stephanie was attending her second Relay as a survivor. She enjoyed being able to share the event with her old friends while making bonds with many new friends sharing similar experiences.

“When I walked around I got a bunch of handshakes and high fives,” she said. “The people cheering you just makes you feel good, and you know that people care.”

As a caregiver for both Don and Stephanie, as well as her aunt in the past, Grace shares in the victories of her loved ones at the Relay during the Caregivers Lap, the second lap of the evening that allows survivors and caregivers to take a victory lap together.

“You try to stay upbeat for them, especially in front of the person, and then you go somewhere later and cry,” she said. “But humor helps. You can dwell on the negatives or focus on the positives.”

 

It Takes a City

Like the others above, Karen Richard learned about her breast cancer from “a routine mammogram” in September 2015.

“I had no idea,’ she said. “I was in the best shape of my life. I hoped it was contained but it was invasive, and it was getting into other issues.”

Because of those issues, Karen opted to have a mastectomy and reconstruction performed, rather than chemotherapy, to avoid reoccurrence. She is now cancer-free, but continues to take tamoxifen, which could continue for 10 years.

“The overall process took about six to eight months,” she said. “I basically gave up a year of my life.”

Karen had not yet met her current husband and caregiver, Herbert, when she first received the news.

“My mother was my caregiver, and my boys, Jared and Jacob,” she said.

“Karen was near the end of it when we met,” Herbert said. “We actually went to high school together but never really met.”

“He knew that I had cancer, because we were Facebook friends, and then we kept bumping into each other,” Karen said. “God has a plan.”

Herbert has since served as Karen’s caregiver, but it’s not his first time through it. He also assisted his father, who dealt with colon cancer.

Karen previously attended the Relay as a caregiver, participating when her father was a survivor of a rare cancer known as plasma cytoma. She said when he was diagnosed in 1985, it was only the second known case in Kentucky.

Now attending Relay as a survivor, Karen said the positive experience that she and other survivors receive from the event is a constant motivation to maintain a wonderful life experience.

“When you have cancer, you can either use that experience to become a bitter person or a better person,” she said.

Currently working as Hillview city clerk, Karen has also attended recent Relay events as a supporter and caregiver for her boss, Hillview mayor Jim Eadens, a melanoma survivor.

“I’ve always felt it’s important to promote the American Cancer Society and cancer research,” said Karen. “It’s still just as important today. We need to find a cure.”

 

See more photos from the 2018 Bullitt County Relay for Life here.