Students reflect on experiences with cancer

Posted by on Apr 5, 2013. Filed under News.

It’s the disease that keeps on taking. Cancer affects all of us, whether we are patients or those who care for family and friends who have been diagnosed with the disease. It’s difficult to meet someone whose life hasn’t been touched by cancer in one way or another. Eckerd is no exception.

According to a 2013 report from the American Cancer Society, there are approximately 13.7 million people alive that have had cancer as of January 1, 2012. In 2013, it’s expected that 1,660,290 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S., and 580,350 Americans will die from it.

Local cancer survivors and Dean Annarelli, left, participated in the 2012 Rely for Life. (courtesy of Chelsea Kuhs)

Local cancer survivors and Dean Annarelli, left, participated in the 2012 Rely for Life. (courtesy of Chelsea Kuhs)

When Eckerd’s Chelsea Kuhs was in the fourth grade, she hit her head while playing on the monkey bars. Her dad took her to the hospital just to make sure everything was okay. They didn’t expect to see a tumor on her right frontal lobe on the CAT-Scan. After a nine-hour, risky surgery to remove most of the tumor, a seizure that temporarily took away her ability to walk and years of check-ups, Kuhs is now 11 years in remission and a junior at Eckerd College, helping organize teams for this year’s EC Relay for Life. “I really think that it really makes you think that life is pretty short and you never know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Behind those who are diagnosed are the caretakers — family members and friends who work to keep the patients’ hopes up. Some keep memories alive if their family member or friend passed away and some students even understand just how difficult it can be to hold the hands of their loved one at their bedside.

Senior Samantha Hagar lost her father, Brad Hagar, in 2010 to bladder cancer. He had been diagnosed on his 61st birthday, March 19,  and passed away June 26, just two weeks before his son, Hagar’s half-brother, was born.

Hagar explained that when her father found out about the tumor, due to the cancer’s high survival rate, they didn’t think much of it. However, they later found he had a more aggressive strand of the cancer than expected. Hagar attended every one of her father’s surgeries.

“It’s so easy sometimes to dig yourself a hole and fill it up with denial, and that’s never the answer,” Hagar said when asked what she would tell others who are going through what she did. “It’s important to be strong, but also be reasonable. Really, the only thing you can do is be by their side as often as you can and never take anything for granted, especially your family.”

Junior Jonathan Rueben has also experienced a loss due to cancer. Rueben lost his mother Denise in 2008, when he was only 17. She had been battling cancer since he was in seventh grade. She had gone through a period of remission, but then was re-diagnosed with a rare breast cancer, which she eventually lost her battle to. When asked about what he remembers most about his mother, he said, “I will remember her smile, sense of humor and optimism. The impact that she had on people was tremendous.”

Then there’s Sophomore Amanda Whelden, who lost her mother in 2009 after a long battle with breast cancer, along with fighting a heart condition and HIV. While Whelden’s mother had a difficult battle; with surgery to hopefully remove the tumor, to the relapse and growth of the cancer, she also remembered that her mother didn’t let the disease stop her. She continued to live life to the fullest, a lesson that Whelden will continue to hold onto. Her experience has lead to her decision to study alternative medicine.

At Eckerd, there is a place for students and faculty alike whose lives have been affected by cancer. EC Colleges Against Cancer is a club that promotes cancer awareness around campus and plans all year for the annual Relay for Life in the spring, which raises money for cancer research and awareness programs. In addition to fundraising, the event also honors those who are survivors of cancer, battling cancer or who have passed. This year’s relay is at 5 p.m. April 12, and will be held once again on the soccer field. This year’s theme will be Hopestock.

Steering the helm of the organization is Haviland Kebler, whose own past experience inspired her participation with Relay and beyond.  “I was inspired to participate in Relay For Life by my friend who is a cancer survivor. He has inspired me not only to Relay for the first time, but has also inspired my career plans. I plan to attend medical school to become a pediatric oncologist.”

We hear stories about cancer every day from friends, family members and even the media. However, when it’s not directly affecting us, we can think that it could never happen to us.

There are easy ways to help prevent cancer: eat right, don’t smoke, exercise, wear sunscreen and sunglasses and get tested regularly. Millions of dollars are given every year to fund various research organizations in hopes of finding a cure. Some cancers have even gotten easier to treat and have high survival rates. Hopefully, with more people promoting hope, health, research and strength, treatment will continue to easier. Most importantly, like what Reuben learned from his experience, “Strength comes from within. It’s amazing how life can keep moving forward.”

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