Most people who know me, know that I am a cancer survivor.
Shortly after moving to Wilmington, I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. The primary lesion was in the middle of my back, right at the beltline.
After surgery, which included two major skin grafts, the scar looked like a shark had taken a big bite out of me. In fact, when my boys were young, they used to charge their friends on Westfield Drive a quarter to come into the house and see “Daddy’s Shark Bite.”
The primary tumor was rated by size and depth of penetration as a Clark’s Level 3 lesion. That’s on a scale of 1 to 5. Reading through all the medical oncology books I could find, my chances of survival were listed as high as 85 percent and as low as only 50 percent.
I give God and good healthcare all the credit for me being here today.
The first time heard about Relay for Life, the major fundraising effort of the American Cancer Society, I committed myself to their cause. I think I’ve been to every relay event since it started in Clinton County. Not only is the relay event a major fundraiser, it is also an opportunity to celebrate survivors of cancer.
I have now been a cancer survivor for over half of my life.
On the other hand, my grandson, Clayton, has been a cancer survivor his entire life.
Clayton was only 1 year-old when he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, which forced the removal of his right eye. Within a few days of his surgery, he walked with me on a Survivor’s Lap. That is what the first lap of the Relay for Life event is called – The Survivor’s Lap.
Clayton, now a healthy 4 year-old, recently completed his fourth Relay for Life and his fourth Survivor’s Lap.
Clayton probably doesn’t quite understand why his Pappy’s face is so wet by the time we complete that first lap. I just can’t help it. Seeing an event filled with cancer survivors and walking the first lap while holding hands with the youngest survivor there, my grandson, is quite an emotional experience.
Whenever given the chance to speak at a Relay for Life event, I always, always emphasize the importance of contributing money to find a cure for cancer. I always remind people that the size of the gift doesn’t matter. A test tube or a petri dish doesn’t cost that much.
I always tell the people that the greatest thing I can imagine is how great it would be if the petri dish or test tube used to finally identify the cure for cancer was purchased with money donated by someone from Clinton County. It could happen. A cure will be found.
Just a few years ago, I was asked to be one of the men in Clinton County to participate in an American Cancer Society fundraising event called, “Real Men Wear Pink.” The purpose of that event was to show that men support every effort possible to find a cure for breast cancer.
During the month, we all agreed to raise money for breast cancer research. Each of us was also asked to demonstrate our support and our commitment to breast cancer research by wearing something pink every day.
One Sunday morning, to show their support, the members of my church, the Wilmington United Methodist Church, committed to wear pink. We have a wonderful photograph that was taken just after the service. Our altar was filled with people wearing pink.
I bought several pair of bright pink socks to wear during the month; some were sporty argyle, some were passionate pink. Not only did I make a fashion statement, but anyone who asked about the socks heard about the importance of fundraising, research, support for patients, celebration of survivorship and doing anything we can to find a cure for breast cancer and all other forms of cancer.
Last year, I underwent another major surgery that was not related to cancer: the total joint replacement of my right knee. There is a lot of pain and discomfort associated with that procedure, especially during the rehabilitation phase. It just flat-out hurt.
I started wearing my passionate pink socks again to remind me that the pain would eventually go away, and the discomfort would be worth it once everything healed. I found that I didn’t have as many pairs of passionate pink socks as I needed, so I ordered some really loud, bright, crazy-looking argyle socks to wear every day, but especially on the days that I went in for physical therapy.
Since then, my children and grandchildren have delighted in buying their Pappy (me) some amazing looking socks. I love them. When someone comments about my footwear, it still gives me the opening I need to tell them about the importance of cancer research (and joint replacement).
Someday a cure for cancer will be found. It might not be in my lifetime, but God willing it will be found during Clayton’s lifetime.
Until then, I’ll be wearing loud, colorful socks.
I’m also kind of glad I wasn’t born Amish.
Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.