Although the stories behind those that participate in this event are endless, The California Aggie sat down with some members of Colleges Against Cancer – and those who helped organize it – at UC Davis to see why they relay for life.
Celebrate: “So basically I have some dead guy’s bone in me.”
“It all started when I was nine years old,” said Kirollos “Cookie” Gendi, a junior neurobiology, physiology and behavior and Spanish double major. “I was playing on the cart turn and I slipped and bumped my leg. I complained that my leg was fractured but my dad said that because I could walk I was probably fine.”
After complaining some more, Gendi’s mother took him to the doctor to “‘just get it over with.'” After examining his leg, the doctor found nothing wrong but thought that doing an x-ray couldn’t hurt – a move that ended up saving Gendi’s leg.
“I ended up in the pediatric oncologist’s office with Dr. Yim and Dr. Jolly. Unfortunately, Dr. Jolly didn’t look too jolly. He had to break the news to me and my family that I had Ewing’s Sarcoma, which is cancer of the bone,” Gendi said.
“Everyone was crushed but I was okay; I never really thought I was going to die even though we spent New Year’s in the ICU. It definitely gave me a positive attitude.”
A fairly new surgery called Limb Salvage and chemotherapy saved Gendi from having to get his leg amputated.
“They cut out a big chunk of tibia and replaced it with a cadaver’s tibia, so basically I have some dead guy’s bone in me.”
Now as vice president of Colleges Against Cancer, Gendi speaks honestly about the Relay for Life event.
“Relay has a special culture; everyone is united under one cause. There’s a common connection because you know someone who’s been touched by cancer and it’s affected your life somehow,” Gendi said.
Remember: “He was my best friend.”
“When I was eight, my adoptive father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, stage four grade four, which was inoperable,” said Ashley Wyrick, senior sociology major. “They told him he had six weeks to live and ended up living another six months.”
Wyrick said she became different after learning of her father’s brain tumor.
“I became really shy after that and didn’t know how to handle it. He wasn’t just my father, he was my best friend,” she said.
After Wyrick’s father passed, his daughter from a previous marriage took guardianship of her until today. Although she is technically her adoptive stepsister, Ashley calls her “mom.”
As fate would have it, yet another battle with cancer would ensue barely a decade later.
Wyrick’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago, when Wyrick was just 15 years old.
“She went through chemotherapy and radiation. I was the one who took her to her appointments,” Wyrick said. “The difference was that it was stage one and there was a chance to fight it out.”
Although she witnessed multiple family members’ battles with cancer, she feels that she has gained insight into a world where most would be lost.
“Everyone needs support in different ways and I learned how to deal with people in delicate situations,” she said.
Becoming involved in Relay for Life has offered more insight into that world for Wyrick.
“I feel even more connected to Davis: I realize that I’m probably helping people out in ways that I probably couldn’t have done before,” she said.
Fight Back: “It’s why I’m involved in cancer research.”
On the other side of the world in Bulgaria, Neda Mitkova, now a senior neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, was just a little girl when her grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“The medication then wasn’t as good; they weren’t going to accomplish much so she got a house up in the mountains and lived there for the last two or three years of her life,” she said.
“Not until the very last couple weeks of her life did we notice that she wasn’t able to get up and do things; I remember because I’d help her get up and go to the bathroom. I was seven and not very strong but she had gotten really weak.”
Over time, Mitkova said she understood the importance of her experience with her grandmother, even after many years since her passing.
“I realized the need for support and importance of having effective treatments,” Mitkova said. “It’s why I got involved in cancer research of different treatments and their effects on cancer patients.”
Mitkova said Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society have been great resources for cancer victims and their families.
“There’s so much great information through ACS that people don’t know about,” Mitkova said. “Maybe if my grandma had known about it she could have fought another 10 years instead of the two or three that she did.”
DINA MORCOS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.