American Cancer Society
 

Past Success Stories

2006 Relay For Life

More than 4,000 people easily spent 12 hours walking the University of Illinois Track to raise $205,248.72 raised for Cancer Education, Advocacy, and Research! We had 16 wonderful performances, 500 Luminaria Bags, and over 20 survivors! This event brought our five-year total to over $750,000!!!

2005 Relay For Life

More than 1,600 people easily spent 12 hours walking the University of Illinois Track to raise $228,878.01 for cancer research

Stories

Stories

Colleen's Story

All of a sudden your life is put on hold.  Yesterday and tomorrow’s worries are non-existent and all you have is now.  What are you thinking?  Why are you thinking anyway?  Nothing really matters.  The world around you transforms into swirling colors, slowly fading out, and you find yourself concentrating only on the air you breathe.  Someone shakes you, quickly snapping back into reality, you think to to yourself “this absolutely CANNOT be happening to me”.

I was like any other girl in junior high; very active in school, part of the national honor society, choir, and captain of my pom squad.  Then one day in 7th grade I noticed that my hands were involuntarily shaking, and I especially noticed this at the lunchroom table when I was trying to drink my Sprite. I shrugged it off, and continued with my daily regimen.  Then I noticed I was having trouble in school, slowly watching my A’s drop to B’s then C’s despite my ambitious efforts.  It became worse, I starting freezing up in the middle of my halftime pom routines; my memory was failing me.  What was wrong with me?  ‘It must be stress’ I would tell myself.

I entered high school and was placed on the honors track.  I was on the cheerleading squad and softball team.  I was having so much trouble in school.  Spring semester I was re-taking classes to try to improve my grades and even enrolled in summer school to retake a math class.  The school year was coming to an end and daily activities were changing right before my eyes. 

I remember during a softball game I was running to third base and in the middle of the base line my legs completely gave out and I fell on my face.  I had to army crawl to the base.  I was safe of course, and everyone was laughing because it was pretty funny.  But inside, I was burning with embarrassment.  I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and the lump in my throat forming. God, what was wrong with me?  Why did that just happen?

There were two weeks left in school and I noticed my gate was completely off; I could not walk straight.  I would run into the lockers when I walked down the halls.  Waiting till passing periods were over so I could quickly sneak to my next class without anyone seeing me became the routine.  Then I noticed I couldn't write without shaking.  My handwriting was degrading and I remember thinking to myself “great, just great, the yearbooks come out next week, everyone is going to find out my secret”.

Next week came around and I was at my senior BBQ.  The air was filled with happiness, and my lap filled with yearbooks.  I signed, signed, and signed some more, totally concentrating and attempting to make my lines straight, or at least readable.  And then my worst fear became a reality when my guy friend made the comment, “Col, you must have THE worst handwriting out of any girl or guy I have ever seen”.  I just kind of smiled, blushed, and when I went home I cried. It was so frustrating knowing that something was wrong with me, but not knowing what.

At this time my best friend was having some medical complications, and her doctors thought she might have a brain tumor.  Something triggered in my mind and I proposed  to my mom that I might have a brain tumor.  I didn’t really know much about them, but I just figured that could be a possible answer.  My mom told me not to talk like that.

School let out, and my summer began.  My summer was consisting of school, and more symptoms.  I starting have terrible 10-second pains in my head, and I was blacking out when I would bend down and pick something up.  I begged my parents to take me to the doctor.  They found that quite unusual since I absolutely despised going to the doctor since I was little.  I’ve had heart complications all of my life, so I was consistently exposed to the hospital.  And when you are little and constantly put through testing it’s common not to necessarily take a liking to that kind of environment!

I eventually went to my doctor.  I showed her my handwriting before and what it looked like now.  She knew something was seriously wrong.  She put me through a neurological test, which is similar to a DUI test.  She asked me to walk in a straight line and put my arm out and touch my nose; I could not do either task.  My doctor sent me for an emergency MRI that night.

I remember laying in the MRI thinking, what if something is really wrong with me?  What is going to happen?  When will I find out?  The technicians informed us that we would get the results within two days.  So when two days passed and we did not hear anything I decided to go to Great America with my friends, which I realize wasn’t the brightest idea.  The next day we kept calling the hospital to find out the results but no one was really clear with us…some fluid…nothing big.

Then later on that night we received “the call”.  The nurse on the phone told my mom that we needed to come in to the office the next morning to meet with the neurosurgeon and to bring the whole family.

The next day we went in and the neurosurgeon put up the slides and pointed to a huge white mass in my brain and simply said, “well you see this here, this is not supposed to be here, and it needs to come out immediately”. Everything just kind of started to spin, and I quickly was not the ‘invincible teenager’.

The doctor informed us that at any moment I could have stopped breathing, or become paralyzed.  The look on his face was surely one to remember when I told him that I went to Great America a few days before.  He told us that if we did not catch the tumor that month, I would have no chance at survival

I remember looking to my left and seeing my mom cry.  I just reached my hand out and touched her shoulder and told her that it would be alright.  My dad and older brother remained silent.  The doctor explained to me that he would have to shave my hair.  I remember saying “no, no, please no”.  Now when I look back I was being pretty ridiculous caring so much about my long blonde hair, because honestly, I would take any measure to have a second chance at life.

Emergency surgery was a must.  I was ready.  I was singing to my parents to try to keep their spirits high.  I just wanted to show them that I was OK.  I remember being wheeled down the hall holding my parents hands, and then I had to let go as I proceeded into the operating room.  What were they thinking?  Would they see their little girl again alive?  Would things be the same, or were their lives about to change forever?

Their lives surely did change; their only daughter was given a second chance at life.

I remember waking up and feeling like I just had been shot in the head.  Then I realized I had to throw up, but of course my bed was broken, so I had to jerk up; that was the worst pain I have ever felt.  I was in the hospital for five days and recovered at home for 6 weeks.

I quickly entered the world of dependency.  I could not walk, eat, go to the washroom, or bathe myself.  My parents and brother had to do everything for me.  This was a terribly difficult time for me.  I remember looking in the mirror and just crying.  I did not see myself, I saw a monster.  Where did my long blonde hair go?  I looked like I just walked through a fire; I had rashes everywhere from the medications.  I did not want to see or talk to anyone, partly because the medications made me very moody, and partly because I was so embarrassed of my presence.  I lost all self-confidence I had ever had, and slipped into asking that dreadful question, ‘why me?’

It did not take me long to put things in perspective.  I was glad to be alive, and that was what really mattered.  When it was time to return back to school I wondered what everyone’s reaction would be.  Well, I returned and I did not have one person ask me how I was feeling.  At first, I felt a little sad, but then quickly realized at that age, or at any age for that matter, these kinds of situations are hard to handle.  My peers just did not know how to react. 

I had to grow up very fast.  Instead of worrying about bad hair days, I was grateful to have some hair.  I could not do full physical activity for a year.  I was still having a considerable amount of trouble in school.  It was then we decided to go through neuropsychological testing.  We found out that due to the tumor itself and the surgery I had acquired some learning disabilities.  With proper accommodations and much hard work I went on to receive straight A’s my junior and senior year of high school.  When I found out I was going to miss graduating with honors by a very small percent (due to my freshmen year grades due to the tumor) I was very sad.  I was not going to walk across that podium with a gold rope around my neck showing off all my hard work.  Then I took a step back and realized that it didn’t matter in what fashion I was walking across that podium- I was walking across it!!! I WAS ALIVE, and I couldn’t have been more grateful.

I was accepted into the University of Illinois where I am today.  It’s unique how this experience really acts as a catalyst for what I want to do in my life.  I’m very involved in the brain tumor/ cancer community.  This experience was a true blessing in disguise and has opened up so many doors for me.

I think it is truly important to measure your life by the lessons learned, and I have, indeed, learned so much from this experience.  I was given a second chance at life and I’m surely taking advantaged of that.  When someone says live your life to the fullest, live in the moment, or life is a gift… you may just want to listen… because after all, I think those are pretty accurate statements.

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Amy's Story

 I assume many of you volunteer with ACS or CAC because you have been personally affected by cancer.  I volunteer for that reason too.  My mom died about 14 months ago after a 2 and a half year battle with breast cancer.

            On the surface, my story may seem discouraging, depressing, or disheartening.  But I invite you to take a closer look: I truly believe it is a story of love, courage, and most importantly, indestructible hope.

            My mom was a U of I graduate in chemistry- just like me!  She went on to become a neonatal nurse, which became her passion.  She had three children, and she constantly taught us lessons of compassion, independence, determination, and love, all by the amazing example she set for us.

            She was diagnosed with stage 3 invasive breast cancer in april 2001.  I was 18 years old.  She went through 9 long months of  surgery, chemo, and radiation. The chemo was the worst: besides losing her hair, she was tired and sick all the time.  My mom once told me how she got through those 1-2 hour chemo injections:  she’d imagine an evil little cancer cell losing a fistfight with a molecule of tamoxifen.  Sometimes we’d find her singing “Another One Bites the Dust” to herself.

            In February, right around my birthday, she was declared in remission. Even though we were all a little wary, we were excited to believe that she had beaten this thing.

            In august of that same year, about a week after I returned to school, we found out that the cancer had returned.  Now we were left with hundreds of answerless questions.  Why didn’t we get it all the first time?  How can we get it all this time? Where has it spread to? Is she going to die from this?  As she started a few new kinds of chemo, all we could do was hope and wait…and it felt like we were waiting for something that we didn’t really want to happen.

            In December, she was still on low injections of chemo, but was still working and leading a pretty normal life. Until she started having strange symptoms like forgetfulness, lack of concentration, and a little loss of balance.  The doctors confirmed that the cancer had spread to her brain.  This was the first time we saw the effects of the actual cancer on my mom; before all her sickness and discomfort had just been side effects of the treatment.

            Most chemo treatments are ineffective in the brain, so she started whole brain radiation 5 times a week. The doctors told my mom that the cancer was too spread out in her brain- that the radiation would never get it all, but it would at least buy her some time. 

            The radiation made her exhausted, but it seemed to work well.  By February, she lost all of her symptoms and was even able to drive and return to work again.  For a moment, it seemed possible that my mom had proved the doctors wrong. I enrolled in summer classes as planned. My mom never wanted our lives to change because of her disease.

            In July 2003, the same symptoms started returning. She started brain radiation for the second time, but we did not see the same results.  The doctors told us there were no more treatment options, so we decided to sign up for hospice care.  Hospice is a program that helps the dying enjoy their last days at home with their family in as little pain or discomfort as possible.

            A lot of people think of hospice as giving up, and at first it seemed like just that. We should have kept fighting, right? My mom could have found the  miracle, couldn‘t she? It really did seem like we had given up hope.

            Well, if there is one thing I learned from all this, its that hope has a lot of different faces.  My family never lost hope, even though we admitted and accepted that my mom was going to die.  Our hope changed from victory over cancer to the hope of a bright future.  Our hope was supported by the knowledge that everything would be ok, no matter what.  The confidence that my mom was going to a better place, and that we would meet again someday.  The assurance that we did everything we could, that death was a part of life, and that this outlook would allow us to really enjoy our last days together.

            In so many ways I honestly consider that summer the best of my life.  My entire family was able to spend all that time together-forgetting about all the rush and responsibility of everyday life- and really focusing on what is most important- the unconditional love a family shares.

            We never had to cook a dinner, do our laundry, or mow our lawn almost the entire time my mom had cancer.  Our mailbox was stuffed with loving cards and notes everyday.  Friends and family came from around the country to say goodbye to my mom and give their support to us.  Its truly amazing the way people come together to help others in a tragic situation.

            Through all the pain and suffering that came with my mom’s condition, the loss of movement, loss of control, appetite, memory, speech…the intolerable pain that comes with cancer spreading to her bones, my mom stayed so strong.  She was ALWAYS smiling- which made it ok for us to all smile, laugh, and joke too.  We had the best time teasing my mom about her new eating habits (French onion dip and pizza?).  We would blast my mom’s favorite music and dance around her bed all day.  We became obsessed with Jeopardy. not to say it was all fun and games, we certainly did our share of crying and screaming, but those times were good too. We were able to tell and show my mom everything we wanted to, and she to us as well.

            About a day before she died, my mom slipped into a coma.  The hospice nurses told us she could still hear us, so on her last night, we were each able to sit and talk with her one last time. I’ve heard that terminally ill people have some kind of choice as to when they want to die, and I really believe my mom knew what she was doing. She died at 4:40 am, just after each of us had our turn to sit and be alone with her for the last time.

            The visitation and funeral were the most amazing displays of love, remembrance, and honor for my mom.  There were people lined up to the door just to tell us how much they loved my mom and how sorry they were for our loss.  It was such a beautiful display of how just one person can impact so many lives, and really change the world around them.

            Although much of those days were a blur, I remember vividly one little boy, about 5 years old, who came to the visitation with his mom.  She introduced us to her son by telling him that our mommy had saved his life.  Five years before, Patrick was born nearly 4 months early, and weighed only a little over a pound.  During his 3 and  half month stay in the hospital, my mom was the nurse that helped him survive. Seeing the profound difference my mom had made in this stranger’s life was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

            Since I’ve been back at school, my outlook on life is so different.  I’ve been lucky enough to get involved in two organizations that have become so important to me: hospice and the American Cancer Society. 

            These amazing volunteering opportunities are not only fun and fulfilling for me, but they give me a way to continue to honor my mother every single day.  I am truly honored to have the chance to share my story and hopefully impact others’ lives in some way.  The best advice I can give a person is just to do the things that make you happy.  My mom found those things: being a nurse, a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend.  And because she filled her life with them, she was able to die with no regrets.  Don’t waste time being sad or grumpy- there's a positive in every situation, sometimes it just take a little searching.  And of course, tell the people you love that you love them as often as possible.  There’s no such thing as too much love! 

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Paint Green Street Purple

Come out on Thursday, Sept 21st from 7-9:30 PM for a rockin' block party filled with entertainment from X-Chords, Contraband, Illini Drumline and more! There will be games, food, friends, and more! Check out UIUC's only Block Party on Green Street between Sixth and Wright!

Find out more.

Relay For Life

Relay For Life is a fun-filled overnight event designed to celebrate survivorship and raise money for research and programs of American Cancer Society. Find out more.

Event Details

April 2007, date TBA
7 PM to 7 AM

U of I Track & Soccer Stadium

 

Register online now!

Relay For Life

Pictures

See pictures from Relay For Life, CAC members, and more!

Relay for Life