The Lafayette County Relay for Life event will be held on Saturday June 25 at Collins Park.
Representing the Relay for Life this year as honorary co-chairs will be Jerry Johnson and Tom Garvey, both of Darlington.
In December of 2013, Jerry went to the doctor to have a mass on the side of his face checked out. He had surgery done in March 2014 when it was found out to be cancer. He was diagnosed with parotid gland cancer, which affects the saliva glands. He then began radiation treatments in May 2014. He had seven weeks of radiation.
“I went back in March of this year and they said there was no sign of anything,” Jerry said.
He remembered back to the first time he heard he had cancer and how he felt.
“Not good. It’s weird, knowing you don’t have any control over what’s going to happen,” he remembered.
Since then, things have been getting better. Jerry mentioned how he doesn’t work as much as he used to. Even though he is currently cancer free, he shared how it may be hard to forget.
“It was a rough deal. I lost 130 pounds in a little over six months.”
The type of cancer he had affected the way he ate food and swallowed and he soon lost the ability to taste anything. But he has since regained the ability to taste.
“That’s why I put 80 pounds back on,” he joked.
Jerry and his wife, Kathy, have two grown children, Mandy and Travis. They, along with other family and friends have been there to support Jerry throughout the whole process. People told him that the first two weeks, he wouldn’t know anything was happening, then the next two weeks he would be down and out and by the last three weeks all he would want to do would be go get treatments and go back home.
“But I told my son, I would work everyday through this. He said, ‘Oh no you won’t. You’ll change your mind.’ ‘Nope, I am going to work everyday.’ And I did,” Jerry added.
It helped him keep his mind off of everything that was happening. He commented that it “would eat your mind up if you dwelt on it”.
Jerry was pretty reluctant to accept being a co-chair for Relay for Life.
“At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to do it. It’s tough to even talk about. But then I thought I’ve got some things that I can tell people that will possibly help them.”
He had a cancer scare before he was diagnosed with parotid gland cancer.
“When I turned 50, the doctor said you have to get a colonoscopy. So finally I said I’d do it. But then they found polyps. He said if I would have waited a year, I would have full blown colon cancer.”
After that, Jerry has told everybody and all his friends that they need to have a colonoscopy. He really pushes people on early check ups for prevention; the sooner you can catch it the better off you are.
Tom Garvey was diagnosed March 7, 2014 with synovial sarcoma, a rare type of cancer, which usually occurs in the soft tissue.
Tom was at work when he was having difficulty breathing.
“It just got worse and worse. I couldn’t do stuff. It was hard to breathe just sitting around,” Tom remembers.
He went into the ER and got an X-ray and that is where they found the mass on outside of his left lung. It has pressed his lung flat so he is only breathing out of his right side.
“He then had a tumor from his left side going across his esophagus, like a finger. So that was another reason he couldn’t breathe,” his aunt, Chris Virtue commented. Chris has been helping Tom out, taking him to doctor’s appointments and treatments.
Along with the tumor on his lung, Tom also has tumors on his kidney, liver, pelvis, and stomach.
Tom just finished up radiation treatments about two months ago. He went back last week to do more scans to see what the new plan of attack is.
When Tom was first diagnosed, he was given 2 weeks to 3 months to live because it was such a rare type of cancer. It is one of the rarest forms of soft tissue cancer in the world.
“They weren’t sure if the chemo they were going to start on him would work,” Chris added.
Tom did that type of chemo for a year.
“That worked. It started shrinking it. It shrunk it down pretty decent. Decent enough to breathe,” Tom said.
But unfortunately he had to stop one of the chemo treatments because it was causing more problems than the cancer was. Tom took March to August of 2015 off and started another type of chemo up until November.
“And that is when they diagnosed a tumor was coming from the left lung area over to his spinal cord,” Chris remembered.
On November 30, just a few days after Thanksgiving, Tom was in surgery to remove the tumor on his spine.
“Luckily they got that out, which is good. I recovered for a while then started 25 radiation treatments everyday. 5 days a week,” Tom said.
Everyday, Chris took Tom up to Madison to have his treatment.
This past April, he had a CT Scan, which showed the tumor on his kidney has grown a bit and he could possibly have a tumor inside his right lung. Last week he was scheduled to have an MRI to take a closer look at his lung.
“The tumor on his left lung is too large to remove by surgery. His lung on his left side has been pushed over by his tumor that they can’t tell how much tumor is entwined in his heart and valves,” Chris informed.
Tom mentioned that there are some clinical trials out there that could help. They took slides from his tumor in November and sent it out East to a place called FoundationOne. They also took his blood and ran his DNA and are trying to match up trials they have done elsewhere with his type of cancer and DNA and see if there is anything that will work.
“There are only four trials and only one in the United States and that’s in Texas. But we don’t know if he will be put into that trial or if there is something else,” Chris said.
These trials and different testing being done on his tumors has given Tom hope. He says there is no other way you can feel.
“That’s the only thing you can do. You’ve got to be like, stay positive and I’m not going to give up. If you give up, you lose,” Tom said.
Tom was initially devastated when finding out he had cancer. He said he echoed what Jerry had mentioned.
“No one wants to hear that they have it. You feel bad for the people that do have it. It’s horrible. They just need to hopefully find a cure for everything. That would be great,” Tom added.
He mentioned that he has had his days where he feels exhausted and upset but he tries to stay as positive as he can and not think about it. He wants to enjoy life and do what he wants to do. He is very thankful for Chris and his grandfather for helping him get to his treatments.
Both Jerry and Tom would also like to invite everyone to the Cruizin’ for a Cure Classic Car Show on Saturday, June 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lafayette County Fair Grounds. There will be music, door prizes, food & drink. All proceeds will be donated to the Lafayette County Relay for Life.