The annual Lafayette County Relay for Life event is to be held on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 8 and 9 at Collins Park in Darlington. This year’s event will see a change in location as well as a later date.
Representing the Relay for Life this year as honorary co-chairs will be cancer survivors: Tessa Carey, of Belmont and Carmen Reilly of Darlington.
Tessa Carey, 4, is the daughter of Becky and Dan Carey of Belmont. In the spring of 2013 Tessa was diagnosed with pre-leukemia or Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease that arises in the bone marrow due to a disorder of the hematopoietic stem cells, and causes the bone marrow to make reduced numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets, or any combination of those three.
Some people with MDS can develop acute leukemia as a complication of MDS, but most will not, however; Tessa was diagnosed with leukemia in October of 2013, after becoming ill with flu, croup and pneumonia all at the same time, and not seeming to fully recover.
Tessa then began treatment, which would last for seven months and included three different types of chemotherapy with 96-hour chemo sessions for the first few times, and over 20 bone marrow biopsies.
Currently, Tessa is in remission, although towards the end of her treatment there was a slight scare of relapse, but everything ended up working out fine.
“Tessa can’t share her story herself,” said Tessa’s mother, Becky. “So I’ve been her voice, even before becoming a relay co-chair, I’ve tried to share that and make people aware that it can happen.”
Carmen Rielly, of Darlington, is a teacher at the Darlington Elementary/Middle School, the wife of Mark and mother to three children: Gunnar, 18, Grady, 15 and Emma, 11.
When Carmen turned 39 in 2011 and went in for her annual physical her doctor recommended a mammogram for next year when she would turn 40 years old.
When the time for that physical came along, Carmen was actually on her way out and in the parking lot after it had been completed, when a nurse called her to ask her to come back in as they had forgotten to do a mammogram.
“It’s a very scary idea, that I almost didn’t have that mammogram,” said Carmen.
After the mammogram, they asked for a biopsy and then a surgical biopsy, and on Aug. 24, 2012 Carmen was told she had DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) breast cancer, and had to make a decision on what to do from there.
“The weird thing is, when I found out I had cancer, I technically no longer had it due to the surgical biopsy,” explained Carmen. “It was all contained in a milk duct.”
Carmen made the decision to proceed with radiation, and made the goal to finish her treatment before the end of the year. She went through 30 radiation treatments completing them on Dec. 28, 2012.
“I didn’t really feel sick any single day,” said Carmen. “I feel very fortunate for that, I was lucky. There are other worse cancers and women with breast cancer who go through much more vigorous things.”
For both the Careys and Carmen, being asked to serve as honorary co-chairs was an honor, although there was some hesitancy before accepting.
“It’s uncomfortable for us to relive all of those feelings, especially in a spotlight,” said Carmen. “But it’s important to share our stories. We want to remind people that they can get to a point where life can return to normal, or at least as normal as you can. So many women have been diagnosed with breast cancer in our area, and it’s about letting them know there can be a light at the end of this scary tunnel.”
“As co-chairs, we’re advocates for support,” agreed Becky. “Cancer with children is something people often turn away from because it makes them sad to see it, but we need to give people who do go through it something to relate to, something to give them hope.”
The co-chairs noted that it is also very important to keep awareness alive and to stress the importance of teamwork in the fight against cancer.
“If everyone teams together we can take down the different facets of this disease,” said Carmen.
The rallying support from community, family and friends was something that both co-chairs experienced in bounds.
“I think that’s one of the best parts of living in a small town—the support,” said Becky. “It’s like everyone becomes family, and it wasn’t just in Belmont, but the entire surrounding areas.”
“So many people reached out to us,” agreed Carmen. “A group of people set up a meal system for my family and I was hooked up with a support network of women with local ties who had breast cancer, and it was such a comfort.”
For Carmen, the school system and students were very supportive when she was diagnosed.
“I’ve very thankful for that,” she said. “Just having people support your decisions and actions or having them tell you they’re praying for you is very wonderful. You can feel people’s prayers.”
At the Carey household at the time of Tessa’s diagnosis, the couple had two other young children in the house: Casin and Kendal, who was just six-months old. Both Becky and Dan also work at the business they own—Carey Seamless Gutters and Longrove Overhead Doors.
“We had to divide and conquer, especially with taking care of the business and our other children,” said Becky. “People brought us meals and just gave us so much support. Support just comes in so many different ways, and now I know better how to support other people in similar situations.”
This year’s co-chairs kept going back to the importance of support, both for an individual but also for the cause that Relay for Life represents as a whole.
“Everyone is affected in some way, but until you’re personally affected yourself or someone extremely close to you is affected, it’s a whole different ball game,” said Carmen. “I think sometimes people can feel out of place or like outsiders if they don’t have personal experience with this, and we just want to welcome everyone to support the cause,” she invited.