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'Cancer is sneaky...'

Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville June 14

June 04, 2014 - Brandon Twp.- Small but mighty.

This will describe the 7th annual Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville, a 24-hour signature fundraising event for the American Cancer Society, set to begin at 10 a.m., June 14 and end at 10 a.m., June 15, at the Varsity Drive track located near Harvey Swanson Elementary, 109 Varsity Drive in the village.

Mary Woods, chairperson for the event, said that as of this week, 17 teams were officially signed up, down from previous years, but as the fight against cancer continues, funds are needed more than ever. Organizers for Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville have set a goal of raising $59,000 this year to fund cancer research, as well as "Road to Recovery," which assists cancer survivors in getting continued support.

Joy Tahaney will be at the relay for the first time this year, not only participating, but walking in the special survivor lap, and sharing her story as one of the selected event speakers. Her speech will carry an urgent message— Even if it's a small bump, or tiny lump, even if you think it's nothing, even if you just had a clean check-up or clear mammogram, don't wait.

"You have to get checked out, even if you think it's nothing," said Tahaney. "You have to make sure everything is OK."

Luckily for her, she heeded her own advice one day last November when she felt a bump the size of a BB as she wiped away sweat while exercising. Tahaney was a month shy of 50, had no cancer history in her family, no genetic markers. A vegetarian and lifelong exerciser, she is a healthy weight and had zero risks for breast cancer. She had gone annually for mammograms for the past eight years and had in fact just received the all-clear from her mammogram that was done in September. She also does breast self-exams monthly, so the tiny bump was new. Tahaney, who is married to Sean and the mother of two boys, Bill, 22, and Cameron, 19, went to her internist, who told her it was probably nothing, but referred her to a breast surgeon, who also said it was probably nothing, but sent her for an ultrasound. Within moments of the start of the ultrasound, the technician told her it was a "big concern," and she was sent for a biopsy the same day.

Two days before Thanksgiving, at 5 p.m., Tahaney received the phone call she will never forget— she had breast cancer.

"It's not the worst thing I've heard, but it's right up there," she said. "It was scary, I didn't know if it had spread."

But because she didn't wait, even though she'd just had a clean mammogram, the cancer was caught early. It was grade 1, stage 1 and though it was an invasive cancer, meaning it had spread into the tissue, it was not found anywhere else. As Tahaney notes, it could have been much worse.

She had a lumpectomy in December, and then a second surgery in which more tissue was removed to ensure clean margins. She also had a new genetic blood test, Oncotype DX, for women who have low stage invasive breast cancer. The test, an example of research made possible by fundraisers such as Relay for Life, helps to determine whether chemotherapy will be effective for a patient. The results showed that if Tahaney did not have chemotherapy, she would have a much higher likelihood of cancer recurrence.

"Cancer is sneaky, but they can look at the cells genetically," Tahaney explains. "They can't find individual cells of cancer, they find clumps, but the test reveals the aggressiveness of cells. Because my results came back that the cells were more aggressive, I was unhappy. I didn't want to have chemo, but you can't put your head in the sand, you have to fight."

She did. Tahaney began chemotherapy in mid-February and every three weeks, would undergo another round. She lost her hair, was sick, and generally felt horrible, but she did what she had to do.

"You just have to put your big girl pants on and look it in the face," Tahaney said. "Even when I felt so bad, I just had to look at a pic of my kids and husband."

She finished chemo on April 22 and on Wednesday, the day she was to begin radiation, noted she had sent a text to her husband with the simple message, "I feel great today."

Without delays, she will be done with treatment by the end of July.

"You have to look for silver linings when this happens, but it's not hard to find them," said Tahaney. "I have had so much support from friends and the community. I have a stack of cards that is 7 inches tall. People do so much for you and the bringing of food is constant... You need to eat, but the smell of food baking was horrible, someone bringing it to you is so much better. I found more love than I ever knew I had and you learn that people really, really care about each other in this community."

Woods is hoping for a good turnout at the Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville, at which the public is welcome to join the festivities, which will include food and entertainment such as live performers, a dj, belly dancers and more. At 1 p.m., the survivor lap will honor those who have fought the disease and won, as well as those who continue the battle. A survivor luncheon is provided by Frosty Boy. At 5 p.m. is the fight back ceremony, featuring speaker Mary Ellen Mitchell. The luminary ceremony is at 10 p.m., and remembers those lost to the disease.

"We do relay so we can keep more people with us," said Woods. "You would be a very fortunate person if you don't know anyone who has had cancer... Come out to Relay, we want to stop this crappy disease. Cancer doesn't sleep and neither do we."

Tahaney will be there.

"In other years, there always seemed to be something else, graduation parties and other things, but this year I will be there," she said. "We'll miss an open house to be there, but my priorities have changed a little bit and I will walk in that survivor lap."

If you are a cancer survivor and want to participate in the survivor lap, contact Julie Graveldinger at 248-535-8074. For more information on Relay, contact Mary Woods at 248-627-5530.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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