There’s a disease out there where many of us shudder at the word, we fear the diagnosis and we tremble when a friend or family member fights to survive. That word is cancer. This disease continues to take many of our loved ones away from us year after year. As strides continue to be made to prevent, or even cure it, we still lose far too many to it.
President Barack Obama proclaimed April to be Cancer Control Awareness Month in 2013. In honor of that proclamation, I dedicate this column to many people who have touched my life, anyone who you have lost and to everyone fighting to survive.
First, I start with a young lady, Jairess, who at a young age was strong, smart and fought hard to beat leukemia. I came to know Jairess early in her life through her family, and later in her life of only 11 years through writing stories about the treatments she went through.
She wanted me to be her aunt, did not like me wearing skirts, and taught me how tough it can be when the realities of this job hit hard as I had to report to the community that she lost the battle and had to be laid to rest.
Young lives are the toughest pill to swallow when it comes to cancer. Besides Jairess, through my career I was also touched by a young man, Stephen Placencia. He was a star soccer player for Cienega High School. He developed cancer, and like so many, he fought through it with the love and support of a strong family, a second family on his soccer team, and a wonderful personality.
His family allowed me to get to know Stephen, and for that, I will always be grateful. However, he too lost his battle, but his memory still is alive in Tucson. His family created the Kick Cancer for Stephen Foundation. If you hear that name, just take a moment and know it’s a foundation honoring a strong, wonderful human being who didn’t make it through his teen years.
More recently, a friend and someone I respected a great deal died from brain cancer. He had a true impact on so many lives, spreading joy, preaching that love and kindness is what the world needs and spreading Christmas cheer year round as he took his role as Santa Claus seriously. Rev. Dwaine Hinskey died of brain cancer, he was diagnosed with stage 4 and although they tried to fight it, we lost a great man to this disease.
As a side note, having the song “Jingle Bells” playing for the start of his memorial service was fitting because he would have wanted more cheer than tears at his own service.
Finally, I look at my family. I first knew the seriousness of a cancer diagnosis in high school when my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. Treatment wasn’t effective and after a terrible few months of great pain, she died. It was a tough lesson for a teenager to deal with, but a reality that we all have to face at some point in our lives.
I lost another aunt to stomach cancer, only this loss was much more dramatic. Theresa was 39 years old, was diagnosed in November and died by April. She left behind four daughters, two of which were under age and moved into my home. Explaining what cancer is to a 4-year-old is one of the toughest conversations I have had in my life.
All of these examples were loved, all of them meant a lot to a lot of people and we lost all of them too soon.
In the end, if you can prevent cancer, please take the steps needed to do so.