Cancer survivors share their stories

Joe McKenzie

Last year, the American Cancer Society provided 100 students with $1,000 scholarships. The program is funded mainly by the fundraising efforts of Relay For Life.

Christina Sugar, a senior early childhood education major, was awarded the scholarship several years ago. At age 18, she was diagnosed with fourth degree melanoma.

Melanoma is a skin cancer that ranks melanoma as the sixth and seventh most common cancer in men and women, respectively, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It is also the number one cancer in women ages 25 to 29 in the United States, and the second most common behind breast cancer in women ages 30 to 34.

Sugar said one of her concerns was that the cancer would not be removed in time and she would need chemotherapy. The cancer was removed during her first surgery in November 2002.

After her surgery, she had nine follow-up surgeries between November 2002 and August 2003. Now she takes a Positron Emission Tomography scan every year. A PET scan helps track cancer and warns if it is about to come.

Since she had cancer at such a young age, doctors say she is prone to get it again.

“Don’t be afraid and hold strong,” Sugar said. “Don’t be weak because that brings you down.”

Another scholarship winner is Dave Verhas, a senior computer science major. Verhas was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma when he was 18.

Ewing’s sarcoma is a rare cancer that appears as a solid tumor, most often in adolescents and children. Sixty-four percent of cases occur between ages 10 and 20, according to research done by Harvard Medical School. Only 150 cases on average are reported each year.

The cancer affects bone tissue, causing pain in the arms and legs. The pain is what encouraged Verhas to get checked by a doctor. His parents took care of him while he went back and forth for testing. In March it will be two years since Verhas’s cancer went into remission.

“Never give up,” Verhas said. “Think of all the things you still want to do in life. That’s how I kept myself going.

“I had to go for treatment. It was just another part of life that I had to do. I knew there were other things in life that kept me going.”

Relay For Life is a 24-hour event that celebrates cancer survivors and helps raise money to fund research and programs of the American Cancer Society. It will be held April 30 to May 1.

Contact career services and alumni affairs reporterJoe McKenzie at [email protected].