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Cancer survivor thankful for Relay

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By Cindy DiFazio

Staff Writer/Photographer

“It seems like everyone in Henry County has been touched in some way,” Brenda Raake said quietly.

A long-time participant in the American Cancer Society (ACS) Relay for Life, Raake found herself in need of the group’s support after being diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2005.

While taking a shower one Thursday in April 2005, Raake noticed a tender lump in her left breast. “I thought something had fallen and hit me,” she said. But, the next day it was still there, and still sore. Raake went for her annual mammogram seven months earlier and all had been well. She phoned her doctor on Friday, then tried not to worry too much while waiting for her Monday appointment.

A new mammogram confirmed that there was a mass in her breast. Raake was offered two options - a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. She chose the lumpectomy and a needle aspiration was performed. Unfortunately, the procedure was not successful and Raake found herself facing surgery and chemotherapy.

She can hardly remember phoning her husband and mother with the news.

“You think you’re ready. You’re not,” Raake said. “It was almost like my mind shut down.” Her surgeon provided informational booklets from the ACS, and Raake phoned the Louisville ACS office to learn more about what she was facing. She spoke with a volunteer, a cancer survivor who offered her support and sent a small pillow which Raake used to cushion the seatbelt across her chest following her mastectomy.

After surgery Raake faced eight weeks of chemotherapy. She noted that participating in a course of chemo-education helped quite a bit.

Her hair started falling out after the second round of treatment. Raake decided to just cut it herself and noticed in the mirror that the face looking back at her was totally hairless. Her eyelashes and eyebrows also fell out. She turned to the ACS for guidance. “The ACS has a Look Good/Feel Good program where cancer patients can learn techniques to help restore their appearance,” she said. “I had someone tell me how to draw and “feather” eyebrows and use eyeliner to replace eyelashes.”

The ACS Louisville office referred Raake to a volunteer at the ACS Northern Kentucky office. She was sent a care package containing information booklets and turban-type scarves. Raake was very grateful for those turbans.

“You just don’t realize how cold your head gets,” she said. Lisa followed up regularly with Raake via phone calls and notes in the mail. She also asked other cancer survivors to phone Raake and offer their support. “Even though I had my family, friends and church family, there were times when I still felt all alone and it helped to have someone who had been through the fight and came out the other side to talk to,” she said.

Raake said she is most appreciative of the ACS supported research program. She needed a targeted treatment due to her aggressive form of breast cancer, HER-2 positive. Thanks to the supported research program, Raake received Herceptin, a weekly drug delivered by IV that suppresses HER-2 activity and reduces the risk of cancer recurrence. “If they hadn’t supported this research, my prognosis might not have been as good,” she said.

The 2005 Relay for Life was held one week after Raake was diagnosed. “I wasn’t sure I could participate that year because I was dealing with a lot of emotions, but I decided to go out and participate.” She noted that it was a very emotional evening for her, watching the survivors take their lap and then taking part in the Luminaria Service honoring those who had lost their battle with cancer that year.

“It was also a very uplifting night for me,” Raake said. “I had the opportunity to talk to different survivors and gather information from them, how they handled their treatments, how long they had survived and just a lot of support.”

Asked how the cancer has changed her life, Raake said “I have a new attitude. I don’t worry so much as I used to.” She now spends a lot of time playing with her three-year old great nephew, Keaten. Raake also enjoys camping with husband, Gene, and noted that they are using their travel trailer more these days.

“It’s kind of made us closer,” she said.

One of the hardest things for her was giving up control while she recuperated. Following back-to-back trips to Louisville for treatment Raake found herself unable to rise from the couch. Her fierce independence made it difficult to ask for help even though family members were eager to provide whatever she needed.

“I knew it was going to be a journey,” Raake noted, “but, chemo is a tiredness that is so hard to describe.”

Raake said that several people, including members of her own family, have at times questioned how much Henry Countians are directly helped by the Relay for Life. She cites the research, support and help she has received as proof that the Relay for Life works locally.

She also noted that at least some of the survivors who participate in the local Relay for Life have in some way benefitted from research either through screenings they had when the cancer was found or the treatments they received. “I feel that I have benefitted from Relay for Life since the treatments I received were ACS supported research accomplishments,” she said. “Somebody’s dollars are coming back here.”

Raake is looking forward to participating in the 2008 Relay for Life scheduled for Friday, June 27. “The Relay Committee is to be commended. Also, the teams and captains who do a lot of work. They all pull together,” she said. She also applauded her niece, Ashlee Quickert, along with fellow hair stylists, Kathy Singleton, Jessica Whitaker and Deborah Derrosett who cut hair Sunday, June 21 at Hair Designs in New Castle for the Cut-athon to benefit the Relay for Life.

“I just take it one day at a time, and thank the Lord for it,” she said.

E-mail us about this article at editor@hclocal.com.