by Jennifer Yarbrough
On April 1, 2017 local Cancer Survivors, Caregivers, and citizens will come together at the American Cancer Society Bartram Trail Relay for Life to remind the community that “There’s No Place Like Hope.” The Relay for Life is a “grassroots, community-based team event,” which happens all over the United States every Spring. The day starts with a “Survivor’s Lap,” and then a “Caregiver’s Lap,” to recognize those directly affected by Cancer. Teams set up “camps,” around the track selling items to raise funds for the event and team members take turns walking around the track. A member of each team must be walking at all times to symbolize how those battling cancer never rest. In the evening, Luminarias will be placed around the track in honor of loved ones lost to Cancer and Cancer Survivors. The lit luminarias against the night sky are a powerful reminder of just how many people in our community have been affected.
One of those Survivors is Danielle Rodriguez. Danielle is like so many of us, a 40-something mom of two small children, she leads a busy life. Last February, she noticed a small pimple on her breast, but thought she might wait until her scheduled exam in April to get it checked out. Her mother intervened and as mother’s often do, encouraged her to make an appointment right away. Thankfully, she did. She was diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer and had to undergo two surgeries and six weeks of daily radiation treatments. Throughout her experience her family, her mom especially, gave her strength. Her mom, her “rock,” who was already a “medical buff,” researched everything that she was going through and helped her gain peace of mind. Danielle describes herself as a person with a “get it done,” mentality and credits that with getting her through. She also found strength in prayer and keeping a positive outlook. Since her diagnosis and treatment, she has worked hard to change her lifestyle and that of her family. She encourages eating organic and being mindful of the food you eat and the chemicals you bring into your home and body. Her advice for people who receive a Cancer diagnosis: it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Get all your facts from all sources—traditional and non-traditional. Work to change your lifestyle, focus on your spirituality, eliminate stress and make your health a priority. By finding strength in the people around her and her faith, Danielle Rodriguez beat Cancer and is living her life with a new focus and passion.
Another Cancer Survivor is Bjorn Huysmans. Bjorn didn’t know when he got involved with the American Cancer Society Relay for Life that one day he would be walking the “Survivor Lap,” himself. In 2014, the 30-something, Small Business Owner decided to get involved with Relay for Life, making his signature “Belgian Waffles,” from his homeland to raise funds for the cause. When he shares his experiences with Relay for Life, one cannot help, but see his dedication and love for the event and what it represents. Last year, he walked the “Survivor Lap,” after being diagnosed with Sarcoma, but before the start of his treatment. During that lap, he walked and talked with someone he describes as his angel, Philip White. That was the first time he had met White who had been fighting his own 7-year battle with Cancer.
Throughout Huysman’s surgery, Radiation, and Chemotherapy, White was there to answer his questions and give him support. Their shared experiences and White's strength in his fight, gave Bjorn strength. Another friend, Trish, a Breast Cancer Survivor, also stepped up and supported Bjorn during his experience. Perhaps the greatest support and strength came from his partner, Petra, a former nursing teacher, who helped with emotional support and the day-to-day routine of recovering from surgery, treatments, and with his wound-care. Her simple statement of, “I’m loving you through this,” made a tremendous impact on his recovery and gave him strength to continue.
Dana Wolf, BT Relay for Life Community Manager had this to say about Bjorn and Petra, both RFL volunteers, “Together they are battling cancer and helping create a memorable Relay For Life experience for North St. Johns County. I am inspired every day by the volunteers that give so much of themselves to Relay so that others might never have to hear the words: "You have cancer."
By finding strength in the support of those around him, Bjorn Huysmans has beat Cancer and is a Survivor.
St. Johns Magazine