Fighting cancer year after yearIt started with a lump in Karen Jennings’ neck. When a biopsy showed the growth was non-Hodgkin lymphoma, her battle with cancer began. For 12 years, she has fought the disease. Friday at Wessman Arena, she will share her story during the 19th annual Relay for Life of Douglas County.
It started with a lump in Karen Jennings’ neck. When a biopsy showed the growth was non-Hodgkin lymphoma, her battle with cancer began. For 12 years, she has fought the disease. Friday at Wessman Arena, she will share her story during the 19th annual Relay for Life of Douglas County.
Both cancer survivors and those who haven’t been touched by the disease benefit from hearing such stories, said Joni Tauzell, senior community relations staff with the American Cancer Society.
“It gives people hope, ‘I can beat this,’” she said. “It’s an awesome thing.”
Jennings’ cancer battle opened with a waiting game — CAT scans and blood work to keep track of any possible spread of the disease. In 2005, another lump was found on the side of Jennings’ face. It, too, was lymphoma. So she went through 20 radiation treatments to beat back the cancer in her carotid gland.
“It was rough,” Jennings said. She was placed on morphine for pain, lost her sense of taste and dropped 30 pounds. It got so bad, she said, that she couldn’t even tolerate chocolate.
A year later, lymphoma was found in an abdominal lymph node and Jennings underwent six rounds of chemotherapy.
In August 2009, severe knee pain brought Jennings back to the doctor. An MRI and subsequent PET scan showed lymphoma invading her body — both legs were packed with it and it had gained a foothold in her collarbone, hips, sternum, lymph nodes and more. The cancer was diagnosed at stage four. Jennings went through radiation treatment and chemotherapy, followed by a maintenance treatment with an intravenous drug called Rituxan that targets and attacks only cancer cells.
“We did that every three months for two years,” Jennings said. Her last treatment was in May, and her cancer is now in remission. She credits her husband, Jeff, and daughters Amanda and Haley for their wonderful support. Jennings said she tries to maintain a positive attitude, fighting to live long enough to see her girls get married and have grandchildren.
The Superior woman began taking part in Relay for Life 10 years ago.
“I like to go there because I like to meet with other people dealing with similar issues, hear other people’s stories,” Jennings said. “It gives me a lot of hope seeing all the money being raised and research that’s being done.”
In 2011, the Douglas County event far exceeded its goal by raising $100,001 for the American Cancer Society. This year’s goal is $112,500.
“I’m pretty confident they’ll hit it,” Tauzell said. “I’m pretty confident in these guys.”
The 327 participants and 28 teams have already raised more than $55,000, Tauzell said.
The money helps fund local programs and services including a patient navigator at Essentia Health’s Cancer Center, wigs and other needed items, the Look and Feel Better program, transportation to and from treatment for patients, and no-cost lodging at the Hope Lodge in the Twin Cities and Rochester for families of patients.
The Relay for Life is a positive, uplifting place to go, said Jennings, who works for an in-home supportive care service, Superior Helping Hands. She hopes her story will add to that positive message.
“I’ve been going through this for 12 years and I’m still fighting,” Jennings said. She will never be cured, but she can knock cancer into remission.
Every year, Relay for Life mimics the journey for people diagnosed with cancer. It begins at 6 p.m. while there is still light. When a person hears those words, “You have cancer” they begin the darkest part of their journey, Tauzell said. So supporters walk through the night, ending at 8 a.m. in the light of the sun.
“Come sunrise, there’s that hope,” Tauzell said. “I’m going to fight this. I’m going to beat this. I’m going to win.”
This year’s Relay for Life begins at 6 p.m. Friday at Wessman Arena. It ends at 8 a.m. Saturday. The relay is free and open to the public, with donations being accepted throughout the event.