The American Cancer Society (ACS), the nation’s leading voluntary health organization, held its 15th annual Relay For Life event at the former Milford Middle School on Friday, June 13 and Saturday, June 14. Relay For Life is a 12-hour event that brings together teams from local businesses, schools, churches and families for fun, food, music, entertainment and a night under the stars, while team members take turns walking on the track to raise funds for ACS.
The Relay for Life event helps individuals by showing them that comfort, healing and support can be found by sharing with others who have experienced cancer in some form in their lives; directly or through loved ones. Opening the evening sharing her emotional and uplifting story, Linda Wells-Jenkins told of her battle with breast cancer.
In December of 1996 Linda discovered a lump in her left breast the size of a golfball and immediately contacted her doctor, who ran a series of tests that all came back inconclusive. On February 11, 1997, while on her way to get ice cream with her mother, Linda’s doctor contacted her and asked her to come in as soon as possible and to bring someone else. During that appointment it was confirmed that she had breast cancer and the doctor began to review the options that included a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.
After the appointment Linda and her mother got back in the car and Linda began driving to get ice cream, as she had before she received the call. As her mother was crying and yelling about how Linda could think of ice cream at a time like this, Linda simply replied “I refuse to allow a six letter word to paralyze me, I need you to get it together so I can focus on my healing,” said Linda. “I need positive energy around me at all time, so yes I am going to get ice cream.”
In a negative relationship at the time, Linda decided to end the relationship the day before her surgery and on February 18, 1997 she received a lumpectomy. In March of 1997 Linda began her Chemotherapy Treatments. In what Linda calls “divine intervention”, her friend called her and told Linda about a guy she met years ago that had been recently inquiring about her. He asked if he could visit Linda and after much reluctance she called him and the pair began to talk. Their first date was one of her Chemotherapy appointments where “he came and sat with me like a gentleman and soothed me with his voice while I received treatment.”
Linda and her new boyfriend married after the therapy was complete and the couple has now been together for almost 16 years. She acknowledges that leaving her ex boyfriend allowed her to be in a positive frame of mind and that her now husband Barry Jenkins helped her to defeat cancer. “Barry is the love of my life and I owe that to my ex, who is a dear friend to this day. My ex saved my life and Barry has completed it.”
After Linda shared her story, the Milford Relay began with the traditional Survivors Lap, where cancer survivors led the way around the track while participants honored them with applause. The survivors lap helps survivors realize their accomplishments and celebrate what they have overcome. The lap also gives hope and inspiration to others by proving that cancer can be beat.
As the sun set over the Milford Middle School stadium that night, the night sky was bright from illuminated bags placed on the stadium bleachers. During the Luminaria Ceremony participants were asked to gather together to remember those who have fallen victim to cancer. Luminaria bags are decorated by participants honoring a loved one who passed or is currently fighting the disease. The bags are placed around the track with candles inside the bags and lit to start of the Luminaria Ceremony.
The monies raised from the evening’s event will allow for cancer research, education and direct services to cancer patients through American Cancer Society programs. With 1.2 million newly diagnosed cases expected each year, Relay for Life participants walked the track all night long because “cancer never sleeps.” Relay celebrates people who have battled cancer, remembers loved ones lost, and provides participants with an opportunity to fight back against the disease. All of these efforts are aimed at furthering the American Cancer Society’s vision of “a world with less cancer and more birthdays.”