Fight cancer: Join the Relay for Life

Cancer is the second leading killer in the United States. Women
have a one in three chance of developing cancer. Men have a one in
two chance. Look around you. If you don’t know anyone who has
cancer, there are plenty of others who do.

This is my story. While it may be graphic, this is what real
people, including college students such as ourselves, must go
through.

My experience with cancer first began about seven years ago when
my aunt, my dad’s sister, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Being
young, this terrified me; however, it was not my mom. I felt lucky.
A year later another aunt, this time my mom’s sister, was also
diagnosed with breast cancer. Safe again, I thought, as it was not
my own family that was affected by the disease.

Then came the blow. During my freshman year at Saint Louis
University, my dad had a sore throat that wouldn’t go away. Being
the type that never missed a day of work, he blew it off. The
doctors didn’t seem too worried either, which was reassuring. As
the weeks went by, however, I knew something was wrong.

It is difficult to describe the creeping sensation of fear that
sets in as you wait for the words you never want to hear.

One night, sitting in my dorm in Reinert Hall, my mom called.
Yes, it was cancer. No, it was not good–Stage IV, with Stage V
being the worst.

How could this be happening? Squamous cell carcinoma, they said,
whatever that meant. A form of skin cancer that had taken a liking
to the back of his tongue, where it continued to grow unnoticed. By
the time symptoms were apparent, it was already spreading to the
lymph nodes.

After the diagnosis, he went through a 14-hour surgery to remove
the tumor and several lymph nodes, which included reconstructing
his tongue using veins from his arm and a skin graft from his
leg.

While this may sound gruesome, the worst was yet to come. After
surgery, he underwent 38 radiation treatments at Saint Louis
University Hospital. The radiation, while getting rid of the bad
cells, also killed the good cells. His throat muscles were deadened
and his saliva glands were gone. He can no longer eat or drink
because of his inability to swallow. He receives nutrition through
a tube in his stomach. Fixing his dinner means pouring three cans
of an Ensure-like supplement into a bag that drips like an IV. The
treatment seemed to work though and life went back to normal.

Unfortunately, in early 2003 the cancer returned, this time in
his lungs. He celebrated his 50th birthday as a bald man, though we
all agreed it was a good look for him. This time the treatment of
choice was chemotherapy, which shrunk the tumors, but not for good.
He is bald once again.

Meanwhile, he leads a “normal” life, going to work 50-plus hours
a week and providing for our family. He gets sick and grumpy
sometimes, but is usually upbeat and is still the dad that teases
his kids and makes sure we are doing well in school.

It is because of my dad that I decided to be a part of the
American Cancer Society Relay For Life at SLU this year. It is the
first year that ACS is holding a university Relay at SLU, an
opportunity for students, faculty and staff to come together in
support of cancer research and in honor of those afflicted by the
disease.

At the kickoff for the event, each person in the room held a
candle and was asked to stand up and light it when the person he or
she knew with cancer was announced. When the word “parent” was
called, I wasn’t the only one to stand.

Relay For Life is a chance to realize that we are not alone in
the fight against cancer. By participating in the event and raising
money for research, we are helping someone to keep the hope that
one day a cure will be found.

Because of the $100 million in funding that the ACS gives them
each year, research centers such as the SLU Cancer Center are able
to test potential treatments and cures. Overall, the ACS has funded
nearly $2.5 billion in cancer research.

Even if you are not on a team, come to the Relay For Life event
on Saturday, March 27. For $10, you can take part in the activities
that go from 6 p.m. on Saturday to 6 a.m. on Sunday. There will be
food, games and entertainment, as well as prizes. More importantly,
you can witness the hope and desire to fight cancer that the nearly
700 SLU students who have signed up will bring to the Robert R.
Hermann Stadium that evening.

Even if you don’t know someone with cancer now, chances are that
someday you will.

Michele Parrish is a senior studying communication.