The series of a lifetime
Beginning in mid-February, I was tasked with covering the Suffolk Rockin’ Relay for Life, for which I interviewed a cancer survivor, fighter or caretaker every week leading up to the Relay.
I heard how cancer took the life of a young mother who survived a horrific car accident.
I spoke to sisters, daughters and wives fighting for the memory of their siblings, spouses and parents.
I heard the story of a vibrant, young mother and military wife who let her children cut her hair when it was falling out from her chemotherapy.
I sat in the living room of a bright-eyed 10-year-old girl who inherited a cancer-causing gene from one of her parents and has been fighting the disease like a rock star for the past year.
I remember when I started writing the articles, I couldn’t get over the feeling that I had no right to be asking people questions like “Do you remember how you felt when you found out?” and “Do you ever think, ‘Why you’?”
That hesitation never did leave me.
Neither did the emotions I felt after finishing any one of the 21 interviews.
It was in story number four — Sylvia Bilby — that I came to grips with the reality before me.
The other stories were difficult for me to write, but I cried the 40-minute commute back to my house this time — not because I was sad, but because I was so overcome by the situation.
After that, there was rarely a story where I didn’t confront those demons.
I remember one day, after interviewing a mother for three hours about her son, now 24, who had cancer three times before he was four years old, I couldn’t do anything the rest of the day.
I could not imagine the strength and sheer determination it took for these people to live through each and every day — for the fighters to face what they were looking at and power through it and for the caretakers to support their loved ones despite all odds.
To top it all off, I have never in my life been so humbled. At the end, many people who I have been so in awe of thanked me. These valiant fighters and leaders in the war against cancer thanked me.
I’m not a person who shuns gratitude or credit when it’s deserved, but one does not thank the paper that a message was written on. I am that paper. I had the easy job.
It wasn’t easy for me to write these stories. My husband knew I’d be a wreck every Friday night, and my editors knew, when I started sniffling, not to talk to me.
But it’s the people like Ursula Stell, whose lower leg was amputated to save her life, that have the hard job.
I should thank each and every person I interviewed. They are the reason I love my job. They are a large reason I wanted to become a journalist.
Looking back over the past few months, I only have one regret.
For several reasons, my only regret is that since the series ended, I have met several more people whose story I did not have the chance to tell. I wish I had enough weeks to write every person’s tale of triumph. Even more, I wish we would reach the day where there are no more stories to write.
Until then, I will continue to fight for a cure.