Saturday will be a day that Joan Hodgkins, 61, will never forget, as she walks the Survivors Lap for the first time at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Clovis. For the last seven years, she has volunteered her time to Relay for Life’s fundraising efforts, even though she had not been directly affected by cancer.
However, last June Hodgkins was diagnosed with stage 4 non small cell lung cancer with metastasis to the bone. Hodgkins had been suffering from shoulder pain, but had no other symptoms when she went to the doctor, so hearing her diagnosis was a shock. She underwent radiation and takes a chemo pill that takes the place of chemotherapy. She is happy to report that the cancer hasn’t spread and the tumor has shrunk.
“This is the first year I’ll actually be involved as a cancer survivor,” Hodgkins said. “It’s a totally different perspective, a whole new understanding of what it’s like to be a survivor with cancer. I don’t even know the word to describe what it’s like to be with those people now, and I’m one of them.”
Hodgkins said transitioning from a Relay for Life volunteer to a survivor was humbling.
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“I always fought the fight for them, never totally understanding,” she said. “People come up to cancer survivors and say, ‘I’m sorry what you’re going through. I understand.’ But no, you don’t know until you walk through those shoes. It’s a whole new life when you get diagnosed with cancer. Life changes on a dime.”
Hodgkins had to stop working and has to be cautious about being in public places where she could come into contact with germs and bacteria. She can no longer go to the beach or the lake. If she does go out in public, she has to wear an air filter mask.
However nothing is going to keep Hodgkins from being at Relay for Life this weekend and walking with fellow cancer survivors.
“These people that walk this walk are fighters,” she said. “To understand this fight they’ve had to fight, the poisons they have to put in their body just so they can live, it’s going to be one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my life.”
Even with everything they’ve gone through, Hodgkins said survivors are committed to continue raising money for research. Hodgkins said she herself benefited that research by being able to take her chemo pill instead of undergoing chemotherapy. Hodgkins hopes more people will become involved in fighting against cancer, even if it hasn’t directly affected them.
“More people in the city of Clovis need to get involved and engaged,” she said. “It seems as though people are too busy in their life to give up one day. Just give us one day and come out and see who we are and what we do and let your heart direct you.”
Relay for Life of Clovis will be held from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, March 21, at Clovis High School, 1055 Fowler Avenue. So far 14 teams have signed up to participate in the event and raise money for ACS, including Hodgkins’ team, “Joanie’s Team.” More teams are welcome to join.
“Relay is important because it is more than just a fundraiser, it is a community,” said Jessica Chamberlain, Relay for Life community manager. “It allows survivors, caregivers and those affected by cancer to come together and become a family. The funds go toward important research that saves lives. It allows the American Cancer Society to take care of those families and give them the support and tools they need to win this fight through our patient services as well. Cancer affects people worldwide, and these relays in our local communities, like Clovis, are changing that and helping to finish the fight.”
The opening ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. with the survivor/caregiver lap. There will be various activities and theme laps throughout the day, as well as local entertainment.
A luminaria tribute ceremony will be held around 7:30 p.m., to remember those lost to cancer and to honor those fighting cancer. The closing ceremony will begin around 9:30 p.m., followed by the fight back lap at 10 p.m.