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Why I Relay

Published on Tue, May 1, 2012 by LAURA SHELTON | CONTRIBUTING WRITER

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Cancer survivor Laura Shelton

On Christmas Eve 2010, at 41 years old, I drove myself to the emergency room in excruciating pain.  I thought I had enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner a little too much. 

The ER doctors thought I had gallstones.  After several hours and many tests in the emergency room, time stretched into Christmas morning. 

At 5:30 a.m. Christmas Day, the ER doctor sat down by my bedside and said, “You have a large mass on your right kidney.”  He might as well have said, “You are growing a third leg.”  That is how shocked I was.

Nine days later, I went through a complicated surgery called a Partial Nephrectomy.  Surgeons removed 25 percent of my right kidney.  They removed the tumor and also another smaller tumor that had started to grow as well. 
It was cancer.  Renal Cell Carcinoma Stage I.  I was one of the “lucky” ones.  I kept most of my kidney and it was discovered early.

Recovery from the surgery was difficult and painful.  It was the most painful thing I’d ever experienced. 
Being Stage I Renal Cancer meant I didn’t need any further treatments.  The recovery was long but after a couple of months, I was reclaiming my life with new vitality. I felt vindicated!  I had beaten cancer!  Ha!  Take that cancer!

Unfortunately, as I later found out, I wasn’t finished with cancer—or cancer wasn’t finished with me.
Exactly five months after finding out that I had a mass on my kidney, on May 25, 2011, I was diagnosed with Stage II Breast Cancer. 

In fact, not only did I have one cancer, I had TWO.  Two cancers in one breast, completely unrelated and far apart.
I felt like my world was crumbling.  WHY had I “stuck my tongue out” at cancer?!  Why had I tempted fate thinking I’d beaten cancer?!  How could I have been so stupid to think that I could win over cancer?

After a flurry of consultations and doctor’s visits and more people seeing my breasts than I ever thought possible; it was determined that my best chance of having a future, was a double mastectomy.

As difficult as the decision was, I knew that it was the right one.  At only 41 years old, with two young children, and cancer twice in less than six months, I needed to take aggressive action.

Losing part of a kidney was devastating, losing both breasts was a million times worse.  You don’t even see your kidney.  Your kidneys aren’t really part of you, part of your self-esteem as a woman, part of who you are.  Breasts are.
On July 6, 2011, I had a double mastectomy.  Though it was heart wrenching, I knew it had to be done to save my life. 
After another difficult recovery, two more surgeries and then three months of agonizing chemo treatments followed.  I lost my breasts, my hair, my health and so much more.

But, I never lost hope.  I never lost the will to live.  Here I am, 11 months later.  My hair is growing back.  My breasts can be reconstructed.  I’m a survivor.
When you get cancer, you start to bargain with God.  Please God, let me see my children grow up!  Please God, let me see my children get married!  Please God, let me meet my grandchildren.  Please God, just ONE MORE BIRTHDAY!
And that’s what Relay is all about.  More birthdays!  We Relay so that someday no one has to hear, “You have cancer.”  We Relay for MORE BIRTHDAYS!

A year and a half ago, the word “cancer” didn’t mean much to me. No one in my family had ever had cancer and I didn’t even know anyone with cancer. 

Not that cancer is contagious, but I don’t think I’d ever even sat by someone with cancer (or, if I had, I didn’t know it).
Now, on May 19, 2012, I’ll Relay for the first time as a two-time cancer survivor.  I’ll Relay so that someday soon, we can all tell cancer, “Ha!”  

Someday, we will cure cancer and I plan to be there sticking my tongue out at cancer once again!  Take That Cancer!
Laura spends her days now watching her hair grow back and writing a book about her experience with breast cancer.  You can read her blog at

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