SELMA – Jane Ono wants Selma, Fowler and Kingsburg to get excited.
If you’ve ever heard the lead chairwoman for the local American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life event speak, that phrase will be heard soon enough.
“We are on a mission with a vision and a passion to bring awareness to everybody of the services the American Cancer Society has to offer,” she said pumping up the teams gathered for the June 1 event at Lincoln Park.
“People don’t know to ask for those services. They don’t know there are free wigs and so many programs and support. They just have to call that 1(800) number,” she said in reference to ACS’ hotline, 1 (800) 227-2345.
This is Ono’s 18th year of taking part in Relay for Life events. She helped her daughter’s high school team in 2001 and has been hooked ever since. Knowing how many people’s lives are touched by cancer invigorates her to keep championing the cause, she said. Unfortunately, her family is also like most that’ve lost a member to cancer.
“My brother-in-law Ted Ono, died from a rare cancer. By the time they figured it out, it was too late and now there’s a niece that has breast cancer.”
Multiple teams came together June 1 at Selma’s Lincoln Park setting up colorful booths honoring their loved ones and offering information and a multitude of fundraisers to donate funds to American Cancer Society’s research.
“That’s what The American Cancer Society does,” Ono said. “They have scientists trying to find a cure, they were responsible for stopping smoking in restaurants and bars, and they have so many services,” she said of the rides available for cancer patients to their treatment, wigs for those who’ve lost their hair from radiation therapy or those who need to stay overnight to get medical care.
“Everybody has a story and we’ve all got survivors on our teams.”
Among those survivors sharing their experience was Kingsburg’s Mayor Pro Tem Laura North who attended to represent her town in the tri-city Relay.
North said that the idea of having cancer was one of her biggest fears in life. It was 24 years ago that she was given that diagnosis by her doctor.
“If you’ve been in that situation, you know what I mean, time froze. It was if I was watching a movie. I thought, ‘This is not my life, my story, this is not me.’ It’s something that never leaves our brain when we hear that word,” she said.
After five years, surgeries and treatment, North said she heard the best C word ever, ‘Clear.’
Her advice for the survivors in the audience that day was to not let others fight their biggest battle in life alone.
“Now, we have a job. It’s to help those who are in the fight for their lives. Share your experience, come alongside them, give them hope and encouragement and be there all along the way.”
Also speaking was Selma student Gladis Lopez, 19, who has beat Leukemia not just once, but twice. It’s been just a year that she received a stem cell transplant at Stanford and as it turns out, it was her youngest brother who was her donor.
She was first diagnosed at age 12 and recalls feeling like she would likely die. She realized that even though she was young, she had to fight to survive.
“No matter how small, no matter how weak people think you are, you keep going and you fight and never give up.”
Lopez was diagnosed again with the disease at age 18 during her senior year. She needed three years of chemotherapy or a 100 percent donor match, her doctors told her. And as her hair started falling out after chemotherapy, she asked her father to shave it. Her three-year-old brother saw the beanie on her head afterwards and wanted to know what was happening.
“He ran to my mom’s room and gets a beanie and said, ‘me, too.’ I said ‘yes, we’re going to fight it together’ and he ended up being my donor.”
Grandmother Paula Rogers shared her grandson Jayden Contreras’ survival story. He was only two years old when x-rays taken during an exam revealed cancer cells were throughout his body. They were on their way to his birthday party when an urgent call from Valley Children’s stopped everything.
“The doctor said Jayden won’t be leaving the hospital. He has cancer. That word is really terrifying and our family had already been through it. I asked ‘what could they do to fix it?’” Rogers recalled.
Doctors said since Jayden was already in stage four with cancer throughout his body and his lungs, the prognosis was grim.
“He’s not going to make it out of here,” she said they were told. “I said, you have to fix it and if you can’t, we know a God who can. We’re going to start praying and you do what you need to do. They weren’t giving us any hope. Our family got there and before I knew it, we’re surrounded by people. Friends, our church members and our preacher got there and started praying.”
After 10 months of treatment, the cancer in Jayden’s liver shrank enough so he could receive a transplant.
Rogers said her faith was waivered and she pleaded for a sign to hold on to hope.
“I remember dropping to my knees. I was so exhausted and trying to be strong for his daddy and mommy but I was breaking. I put my hand on Jayden’s belly that was so large because the cancer was so big. I urged God to give me a sign because I couldn’t hang on.”
Later doctors confirmed that the tumor was shrinking, enough so he didn’t need a transplant but only surgery and the cancer disappeared from his body completely.
“We’re fighters, just as all of you are here, and we’re going to keep fighting for this cause. We’re going to find a cure whether it’s in this life time or the next generation.”
Afterwards, Rogers said it was important to share their family’s story to encourage others.
“We get put through our trials for a purpose and that is to reveal God’s glory. We have so much to be thankful for and we’re blessed. Our story may help other families know they’re not alone, that there’s hope and to never give up.”