There is no history of cancer in Holly Heikkinen’s family. And yet, in January, she was diagnosed with stage two cancer.
She had been feeling washed out, she told a crowd at the American Cancer Society’s 2011 Relay for Life on Friday in Youngstown State University’s Beeghly Center.
So last December, she underwent a mammogram and a sonogram. On Jan. 4, she had a biopsy.
On Jan.14, she was told, “The doctor wants to speak to you.”
“He told me I have cancer,” Heikkinen said, adding that he told her it was throughout her body.
She was told to put her hope in doctors and nurses, “But none of that meant anything,” she said.
Noting that she’s “very blessed with a support system,” she decided she was not going to let cancer get her down.
On Feb. 18, she underwent chemotherapy for five hours. To date, she has undergone four treatments and has two more to go.
“By no means my journey is over,” she said. But a nurse told her, “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” and she now lives by the motto, “With hope, all things are possible.”
“I’ll be back here next year,” she told the Relay participants, who began entering the center shortly before 6 p.m. Friday. The overnight event, which raises funds for cancer research, will end at noon today.
This is the ninth year for the fundraiser at YSU, according to Tod Crowe, event chairman.
The event originally was scheduled for earlier this month but had to rescheduled after an animal caused an electrical shortage on campus.
Crowe said the event normally raises about $64,000 a year and should reach that goal this year.
He praised YSU for allowing the drive to take place in Beeghly Center.
Friday’s event also included disc jockey Sam Morocco, who was firing up the crowd with music to begin their walks through the building. Heikkinen was among those in the first wave of walkers.
People pledge funds to walkers to help fight the disease, according to Francesca Kostik, an income-development manager for the American Red Cross office in Canfield.
Teams are formed, each with a captain and members. Thirty teams took part, with 26 teams at the Beeghly Center. Four others are small, off-site drives.
“They do raise money,” Kostik said.
Some people will be sleeping in Beeghly Center during the drive. Each team has its own arrangements.