Cancer survivor uses event to educate others
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -- After surviving three bouts of cancer, Emelie McFarland believes she has a message to share.
"It's very important to me to make people aware, and early detection is the key as far as I'm concerned, along with good doctors, prayer and a good attitude," she said.
And that is why the Lawrence County woman is spearheading the Relay For Life Walk at Slippery Rock University, a 24-hour event to raise cancer awareness and money for research.
"Through the Relay for Life I would like to make people aware that anybody can develop cancer at any time. I would like for them to know that if there is any family history of any type of cancer, please get checked regularly and keep your regular doctor's appointments," she said.
The 65-year-old Scott Township woman said she has now been free of cancer for eight years, but suffered two bouts with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and one bout of colon cancer.
Checkups: After seeing her mother suffer through treatments for breast cancer in the 1950s, McFarland started getting regular checkups when she became an adult.
A lump was discovered on her breast in 1987, and she feared it was breast cancer, but doctors later determined that the lump had been caused by non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that starts in the lymphoid tissue.
McFarland had a radical modified mastectomy and was free of cancer for about four years until the lymphoma showed up in the bone marrow of her shoulder.
This time she was required to have chemotherapy treatments to treat the disease.
McFarland said once she was free of the non-Hodgkins lymphoma, she still kept her regular doctor's visits, and they discovered she had colon cancer.
"I had just finished treatments for my shoulder and then they discovered I had colon cancer. I had to go and see my buddy the surgeon again, and he did a colonoscopy and they removed a third of my colon," she said.
She again had to start weekly chemotherapy treatments.
"I didn't ask why, because I figure God only gives you what he knows you can handle. I got tired from the chemotherapy and that's why I would have it done on Friday afternoons. I came back to work on Monday, and the students here helped me through this," she said.
Kept working: Through it all, she kept working at Slippery Rock, where she has been employed for 36 years. She has held various posts and is now a secretary in the receiving department.
McFarland said her husband, James, her daughter and fellow employees helped her cope with the fatigue and the other effects of chemotherapy, such as hair loss.
A few years ago she decided to take her story public and hold an awareness walk on campus to alert students, faculty and the public about the importance of early detection for cancer.
Mike Lysakowski of the American Cancer Society in Butler convinced her to turn the awareness walk into a Relay For Life event, which symbolizes a patient's ordeal with the disease.
"The Relay for Life is symbolic of peoples' fight against cancer," he said. "It does not take a break. It does not sleep just because you want to go to sleep."
Walkers will work in teams to cover the entire 24-hour period at Slippery Rock's first event April 12-13. The walk is open to the public, and planning for it starts this week.
McFarland said she will be sharing her story before the walk begins. Others on campus, including students, who have had cancer also will speak.