To Many More Birthdays

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jul 09, 2011

"My cancer scare changed my life. I'm grateful for every new, healthy day I have. It has helped me prioritize my life."
Olivia Newton-John

"'Your child has cancer." Those are the four words that no parent ever wants to hear. But 37 years ago, my husband and I heard them for the first time when our son was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia." With those words, Holly Murray told us her story during the Opening Ceremony of the 2011 Relay For Life initiative which was recently held on the campus of Valley Forge Christian College. 

Holly immediately shared the good news that in spite of a second cancer diagnosis as an adult, their son today is a healthy grown man and is living a full and successful life. In her words, "He is a survivor." 

But as she shared her story, we tried to imagine what life was like in the early 70's when they were just beginning to make some significant discoveries in the treatment of childhood cancer. Then, the survival rate was only about 25 percent. 

When the Murray's son lost his hair, he tried wearing a wig. He put it on for the first time, took one look at himself in the mirror, pulled it off and said, "You know, Dad, with my personality, who needs hair." 

Today, the survival rate for pediatric cancer is close to 80 percent. I will not forget Holly's words when she said, "I know that day will come, if not in my lifetime, then maybe in my son's, when that survival rate will reach 100 percent." 

Another speaker during the Opening Ceremony began with these words, "My name is Kathy Mitchell and I am very honored to be speaking to you today. I am a two-time cancer survivor. I have had 11 birthdays since I had breast cancer and six birthdays since endometrial cancer." 

She continued, "Cancer is not an unfamiliar illness in my family. Both my two younger sisters had breast cancer in each breast and my middle sister had melanoma as well. Our mother died of brain cancer and our father had prostate cancer. So between the five of us, we had cancer nine times." 

Because her family describes her as a person who views life through "rose colored glasses," Kathy was convinced the small lump which was first found in her breast was nothing but a cyst. All she would have to do is have it removed and get on with her life. But when the doctor gave her the report, she said, "Honey, I can tell you one thing, this is not a cyst." 

As she spoke, her faith and optimism did come through. She loves the survivor's walk when "Love pours out as we walk around the field" with friends and total strangers clapping and smiling and giving us thumbs up. It makes us realize that "we can all help to find a cure for cancer. That, there is a light at the end of the tunnel." 

Dr. Et-tsu Chen, Director of Radiation Oncology at the Phoenixville Hospital, spoke of their commitment to add tools and specialists "In keeping with our goals to provide the highest level of care possible in your community. Patients come to seek medical guidance from their physicians, but often times I find it is you, my patients, who inspire me with your strength and courage." 

Over $100,000 was raised by this year's Phoenixville Relay For Life but it would never have happened without the capable leadership of April Klotzbach, the event's chairperson, and Jamie Gold, the American Cancer Society's local representative, as well as many leaders and local participants. 

Relay For Life always impacts me because my mother died in 1989 of breast cancer at the age of 70. Next time we light those birthday candles for members of our families, let's all remember to keep on doing all we can to get rid of this awful disease. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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