Johnson City resident Georgita Washington, a 10-year breast cancer survivor, said her cancer story begins with her maternal grandmother, who died from breast cancer.
“I wanted to be on top of it as much as possible,” Washington said. “I started with mammograms before I was 40.”
At the age of 44 during a routine mammogram, the results showed an abnormality and six months later doctors confirmed an ever-growing mass was cancerous.
Washington said she would not have been able to get through her battle with cancer alone.
“A lot of it was faith, my church family and my family and my friends,” Washington said.
Washington’s church family was with her at the Johnson City Relay for Life event held at Indian Trail Middle School on Saturday.
They joined her on stage as she sang to encourage an audience of fellow survivors, caregivers and many other American Cancer Society supporters to celebrate, remember and fight back.
“Everyday I am just grateful to be able to be here because it didn’t have to be,” Washington said. “When I walk around and look at the bags ... there could have been a bag out there with my name on it.”
Research conducted by the American Cancer Society also helped Washington through her battle and she said she enjoys having a chance each year to give back through Relay.
“Keeping in touch with the American Cancer Society helps me feel better about doing a little for the group because they are trying to help a lot of people,” Washington said. “Relay makes it real what the American Cancer Society is doing. It brings the community together and a community of survivors and caregivers with the American Cancer Society.
“You get to put faces with what they are doing and see the results of what they are doing,” she added.
Washington said she is thankful to be able to walk the track and see all the creative ways teams are generating funds for further research.
More importantly, Washington said she is also thankful to be alive and able to walk the survivor lap with others who have overcome cancer.
“It’s kind of surreal and overwhelming to be out there with other survivors and to have the crowd cheering you,” Washington said. “I’m glad to be able to do the survivor lap.”
Walking in the row in front of Washington during the survivor lap was Kelly French.
French gave an inspirational speech just before the survivors lined up on the track comparing and contrasting her battle with cancer to a marathon she ran the November before her diagnosis.
“I am a cancer survivor,” French said. “I am a runner. I am a 30-year-old pediatric therapist working full time, trying to be a decent wife and boxer dog mom. Life was trucking along just fine when I was diagnosed this year in January with a rare form of ovarian cancer.”
French finished chemotherapy in April and since May has been cancer free.
“When you are diagnosed with cancer, you have no other option but to be strong,” French said. “It’s time to fight a fight. Whatever stage your cancer is in, you are most likely facing some sort of treatment. During that treatment, you’ll need the strength of others. During my cancer journey, I learned most about the need for other people.”
Just before the caregiver honor lap, French’s husband, Jason, said he was happy to be there for his wife during her fight and have the American Cancer Society behind both of them.
“I look at it as a blessing to be there when my wife needs me to most,” Jason said. “It’s definitely had it’s challenges, but I think we are better on the other end and stronger in marriage.”
Jason said perseverance is key when being a caregiver and encourages all caregivers to embrace that quality.
“Stick with it one day at a time,” Jason said. “We were overwhelmed with looking at the full scope. We just took it one day at a time, prayed hard and looked to family and friends for support. We are getting through it.”
The American Cancer Society, Jason said, offered a sense of normalcy to his wife and kept her spirits high.
“They’ve blessed us,” Jason said. “They’ve really been there to support us through the whole thing.”
With much emphasis placed on celebrating more birthdays for those battling cancer, Jennifer Poff, American Cancer Society community representative, said the event gives all participants hope while simultaneously giving family and friends a chance to fight back.
“Hope is a big word, but the remembrance part is just as important,” Poff said. “We’ve watched family members suffer and struggle with this disease. This gives us a chance to really fight back and to say, ‘We are going to beat this.’ ’’
Shelia Loudermilk, an American Cancer Society representative and cancer survivor, said this year’s Relay was a little different than past events.
“We’ve changed our hours up a little bit by doing it from noon to midnight,” Loudermilk said. “We are hoping to have more families come out and get involved.”
With a $115,700 goal, by 5 p.m. the Relay For Life of Johnson City had reached about $60,000, Poff said.
The next Relay for Life event will be held in downtown Jonesborough on July 20 with the Storytelling Center hosting a cancer survivor reception.
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