Less than three weeks from now, several months' worth of effort will culminate in Relay for Life events nationwide.
The East Lincoln Relay for Life, set for April 30 at East Lincoln High School, has been especially active. Almost every week, one or more of the 39 teams in this chapter hosts fundraisers and awareness events. The money goes to the American Cancer Society to support cancer research and programs for cancer patients and their families.
Jennifer Dyer of Denver, a member of East Lincoln Relay's Fishing for a Cure team, was diagnosed with appendix cancer in September 2008. One night she went to bed with abdominal discomfort. When she couldn't sleep, Dyer knew it was serious.
"I heard a voice - I'm certain it was God - that said, 'Get your clothes on and go to the hospital,'" she said.
Soon afterward, Dyer had surgery to remove her appendix and other cancerous areas in her abdomen. In December 2008, she underwent a procedure called hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, or HIPEC, where a heated anti-cancer drug is pumped into the abdomen. That was followed by chemotherapy. She returned to work at Bank of America in October.
In January, the cancer returned behind her stomach. She had another surgery and HIPEC treatment at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in February and has been in recovery since then.
"It is a slimy cancer," Dyer said. "I am hopeful that I have beat this cancer now, but am in a watching-waiting mode and always will be."
Relay for Life raises money for cancer research and patient support and increases public awareness of the disease, removing the stigma that once surrounded it.
Another member of Dyer's team, Sharon Sikes, developed breast cancer more than 30 years ago. She did not tell many people about it; it wasn't something you talked about. She credits her survival to her husband's support and her own determination.
These days, thanks to awareness campaigns, patients don't keep their struggles private. When Dyer developed cancer two years ago, a large network of friends and family rallied to support her. They formed the "Fishing for a Cure" team and raised more money last year than any other team in the East Lincoln Relay for Life chapter. This year, team captain Craig Price is East Lincoln Relay chair. And Fishing for a Cure is still the chapter's top fundraising team.
"This experience has taught me a lot," Dyer said. "Most importantly, how you can overcome the odds and at the same time see friends work together to raise money to hopefully find a cure for cancer someday."
Like Sikes, Dyer is a mother whose children, Hank, 22, and Jena, 21, provide extra incentive to fight cancer and to participate in Relay for Life. "I hope this cure comes in my lifetime," she said. "If not, certainly in theirs."