Honoring cancer survivors

SYCAMORE – One of the worst things any mother can hear is that her child has cancer. It’s even worse when your daughter is only 3 and she has a disease so rare only 1 in 5 milion children get it.

“Your whole world stops,” Asheli Mann-Lofthouse said. “But you have to be strong for your baby. ...She didn’t understand everything, just that she was sick. We were very honest with her.”

Mann-Lofthouse’s daughter, Raegan, had three surgeries in six weeks to remove the 5-pound tumor. Last weekend, Raegan, now 6, was one of the youngest cancer survivors to participate in the 17th annual Relay for Life of DeKalb County presented by KishHealth System at Sycamore High School. In the spirit that captures the entire event, Raegan, who will be tested for the rest of her life for a recurrence of the cancer, donated her hair at the biggest fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Relay for Life started in 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt raised $27,000 by walking his local track in Tacoma, Wash. for 24 hours. It is now held at 5,200 sites throughout the country and has raised more than $4.5 billion to fight the disease. According to the National Institute for Cancer, 7.6 million people across the world die every year from cancer. Lung and bronchial cancer are the No. 1 cancer killers.

For Marla Reese, the first time she was diagnosed with breast cancer, in 2004, wasn’t as bad as the second time, this past January. “The first time, I was like, ‘all right, just tell me what I have to do,’” the DeKalb woman said. “But the second time I was really scared. I thought I was done with it. My youngest daughter (of three children) was only 10. I thought I’m not going to see her graduate from high school.”

After beating cancer for a second time, Reese – whose parents had cancer, as did three of her grandparents – feels the least she can do is talk to as many women as she can about it. “I don’t wear a wig or a bandanna on my head,” she said proudly.

Carl Sigman of DeKalb didn’t suspect anything was wrong until one day three years ago when he started feeling so bad at work he told a co-worker he needed to go to the hospital. Sigman, who was battling another health problem, was told he only had six pints of blood in his body and no platelets. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which he calls “a quiet cancer that just kind of lays there.”

“I just didn’t believe it,” his wife, Mary, said. “He was getting treated for his blood. I never thought it would be cancer.”

At least 338 members of 41 teams took turns walking the track for 12 hours at the local Relay last weekend. After raising more than $82,000 last year, coordinator Molly Link said this year’s goal was $100,000.

Allison Wadle and Tracy Coyle, on a team of 21 walking for the late Mary Beth McGill, said their initial goal was $1,500. “We reached that this morning so we’ve raised it to $2,500,” Coyle said.

Brennan Ladis, 13, of Sycamore has been walking since 2004. Next to him was Jyllann Torres, walking for the first time. The 18-year-old said she was doing it for her grandmother who passed away from cancer, as well as for her aunt, a cancer survivor.

One of the most distinctive teams was “The Colorful Cancer Curers.” Taking a cue from this year’s theme, Madeline Alger said the DeKalb teens dressed as characters from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Last year, we did it because it’s a good cause,’’ said Steve McMaster, 17, dressed as the Tin Man. “This year, unfortunately, we have a couple of family members with it.”

Caitlynn DeLap, dressed as Dorothy, said she came out because it was a chance to hang out with her friends and do something for a good organization at the same time.

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