Survivors stand tall after cancer

Monday, April 27, 2009
Cancer can strike anyone at any time of life, as can be seen in the story of 13-year-old survivor Gavino Hernandez. Like so many others, Saturday's Relay for Life was a chance for the Hernandez to celebrate and to continue fighting the fight.

Relay For Life is more than just a fundraiser to help find a cure for cancer. It is a time of celebration.

For those who have survived the diagnoses and various treatments, it is a celebration of life.

For those who have been left behind by loved ones lost to cancer, it a celebration of memory and honor.

Putnam County held its annual Relay For Life Saturday at Blackstock Stadium. The 24-hour schedule was jammed-packed with events. At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the track turned purple as women, men and children wearing purple survivor T-shirts took their lap.

Among them was Greencastle native Darrell Runnells. In September 2006, Runnells was given a diagnosis of Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It represents approximately 5 percent of all cancers in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The cancer attacks the lymphatic system or a part of the immune system that helps the body fight disease and infection. Other cancers of the lymphatic system are called non-Hodgkin's, stated NCI's Web site.

Runnells underwent 13 radiation treatments in a two-week span. He would travel to Avon Monday through Friday and take weekends off.

Following a three-week break from the radiation, Runnells had 12 chemotherapy treatments at Hendricks Regional Hospital.

"It was an awesome place," he recalled. "They treated me like family."

The chemo came in six- to seven-hour sessions every other week. There were four different types of medication pumped into his body through a port in his chest.

"It is better than going through the veins in the arm," he said.

Luckily for Runnells, doctors caught his cancer in its early stages. It has been two years and nine days since he has been released into remission.

"Doctors have given me a 95 to 98 percent chance (of surviving)," he said with some joy in his voice.

Since his battle with Hodgkin's, Runnells has kept himself active. He works out more, plays sports and even coaches his 12-year-old daughter's soccer league.

In addition to his active lifestyle, Runnells said he keeps a better diet and a low stress level. Those were doctor's orders because it helps build the immune system.

"I feel better now than in years," he said with a smile. "I thank God every day I'm here."

Taking to the track in a wheelchair was Cloverdale resident Becky Taylor. She is a survivor of breast, bone and brain cancer.

Her diagnosis of breast cancer in the lymph nodes came in 2003. It was stage four. In 2005, she was told she had bone cancer, which took one of her ribs. Three years later, Taylor received news she had brain cancer. The tumor in her brain has since been shrunk by radiation treatments.

Along for the ride around the track was Taylor's miniature Yorkie Katie. Katie was dressed appropriately for Relay in her Susan G. Komen T-shirt, complete with a white bow in her hair.

When asked about taking her survivor lap in a wheelchair, Taylor responded with, "It's the pits."

To commemorate a "quarter" century of change, Relay for Life committee members lined up quarters around the inside of a quarter of the length of Blackstock Stadium's track on Saturday.

Cancer does not discriminate. It touches the old and young. Gavino Hernandez was only two years and 10 months old when doctors found a tumor on his brain stem.

His mother, Tracy Hernandez, said Gavino's symptoms began with severe headaches and vomiting.

Tracy and husband Sam took him to Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis where Gavino underwent surgery. He was given one year to live.

His family didn't give up. They chose to take him to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. for a second surgery.

"It was a tough decision," Tracy remembered.

At St. Jude, doctors were able to remove the entire tumor. He received six weeks of radiation. Gavino was temporarily left with left-side paralysis such as a stroke victim would suffer, but was otherwise given hope.

Today, 13-year-old Gavino lives a happy, normal life with his family in Greencastle. He attends South Putnam Middle School and seems to enjoy life to its fullest.

He takes no medication, his mother added. And two days before Relay, the family had just returned from Memphis for his 10-year check up.

Gavino is the Hernandez family's reason to Relay. This was their sixth year participating.

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  • Great article Shannen, thank you.

    -- Posted by HelloMcFly on Sat, May 9, 2009, at 9:18 PM
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