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Cancer survivor supports others at Relay

The Relay for Life of Suffolk this May is an opportunity to help raise money for the American Cancer Society, remember loved ones that have died from the disease and honor survivors like Ann Lester, one of the Relay’s event team leads.

Lester, 53, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. She then underwent six weeks of radiation therapy after two partial mastectomies. The treatment was effective, but the cancer returned when she received a stage III breast cancer diagnosis last summer.

Her latest round of radiation treatments was finished earlier this April. She has had one complete mastectomy and is due for another this summer, she said.

But Lester maintains a positive outlook after her bouts with the disease and is grateful for the relative ease of her care up to this point, especially after seeing the struggles that other patients have gone through during treatment.

“Yes, I lost my hair and yes I was tired, but I didn’t have the white stuff that gets in your mouth and I didn’t get burned by the chemo,” she said in a phone interview. “I had it relatively easy compared to other people’s stories.”

She urged other women to take care of themselves and be mindful of their health. The outcome is more positive the sooner you are diagnosed, and that requires visiting your doctor sooner rather than later.

She said that that she didn’t feel any lumps before her first diagnosis, which was thankfully caught early. The second time, she felt them — marbles, she called them, because she doesn’t like calling them tumors.

“Don’t hesitate,” she said. “Yes, you have to take time off of work to take care of it. But it was so worth it to get it caught so early. Women have to take care of themselves.

“I think a lot of us will postpone self-care for jobs, family, kids and that kind of thing, but you have to make sure you’re (still) around for them things. You can’t ignore things like (this).

Lester has participated in Relay for Life for about 30 years, and this will be her second year as an event team lead. She and others help recruit teams leading up to the Relay and assist them during the event.

“It is so much fun (and) there are so many things to go out there and do,” she said.

There will be a variety of different laps on the school track to keep people moving, including the survivor lap. She will be on the track with her pink feather boa and umbrella — bright and colorful, but also somber in a heart-wrenching walk to remember.

“The survivor lap sums it all up,” she said. “That’s what we’re there for, to honor the survivors and remember those who didn’t.”

Relay for Life of Suffolk will be held on May 18 at Nansemond River High School, 3301 Nansemond Parkway.

Survivors and supporters alike will be engaged from noon to 10 p.m. with laps around the school track, fundraising activities held by different teams, live entertainment and food vendors.

Following the opening ceremony at noon there will be non-stop laps that will include survivor and caregiver laps, along with festive alternatives to keep people moving.

There will also be the lighting of the luminarias at 9 p.m. to remember those that have been lost to cancer. Bags are available for purchase online for $10 and on the day of the event as well. These will be personalized to honor loved ones and placed around the track for participants to walk among the candlelit memorials.

As of Tuesday evening, about $32,649 has been raised towards this year’s $150,000 goal, with 39 days to go. Visit relayforlife.org/suffolkva for upcoming deadlines and updates to the event’s schedule. Registration for the event is free.

Those interested in registering as a vendor or who have other questions can contact Tara Asare, community development manager for Relay for Life of Suffolk, by email at tara.asare@cancer.org or by calling 493-7972.