By Ed Runyan
Judy Bresko of Youngstown is living proof that cancer sometimes doesn’t enter through the front door as much as break in through the basement in the middle of the night.
Bresko was 38, a mom of two kids, PTA president and a full-time worker who rarely saw a doctor in 2004 when she suddenly started having severe pains in her side.
It took several weeks for doctors to determine that she had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of cancer more common among older men than younger women, she said.
No one told her at the time, but she learned later that because of the aggressive nature of the disease, one doctor estimated she might not live more than a week.
But Bresko had too many people to take care of and too much to do to think about going home. She took time off for cancer treatments, but she kept working, stayed on with the PTA and prayed.
She has kept a positive attitude through her nearly eight years as a cancer survivor, and that has made all the difference, she said Friday.
Bresko was among the people who walked in the survivors’ lap at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life at Churchill Park off Belmont Avenue. It is the 11th year for the Liberty cancer fundraiser.
“I worked through my illness because I’m a firm believer that the worst thing you can do is sit around,” Bresko said.
“Prayer makes a huge difference; even if nothing else, it makes you feel better,” she said, adding that when you participate in prayer chains, it helps to know that others are also praying for you.
Bresko said she didn’t participate in Relay for Life in the beginning of her illness, but she eventually realized the event gives hope to the survivors and their family members.
“You have to look for a silver lining,” she said.
She also discovered that being involved in Relay for Life puts survivors in touch with other survivors. Cancer survivors can relate to one another and frequently bond immediately, Bresko said.
“It’s a family you never wanted to join, but once you’re in, it’s awesome,” she said.
Bresko said she has taken on a role as an information source and sounding board for others with the disease.
“I think I was left here for a purpose — if that’s to help other people, so be it,” she said.
London Hairston, 11, of Liberty, and her uncle, Bruce Richardson, 50, of Warren, walked together in the survivors’ lap, as they did last year.
After three years of treatment for leukemia, London is scheduled for her last chemotherapy treatment July 1, she said.
“It makes me feel so good to see so many other survivors and so many other kid survivors,” she said.
Annie Holzschuh of Austintown, one of the Liberty relay organizers, rallied the survivors and their supporters as the event’s start.
“This is certainly Liberty at its finest,” she said. “We will be here until the day you no longer have to hear the words ‘You have cancer.’”