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UINTA COUNTY FIGHTS CANCER Part 1: ‘A survivor from the minute you are diagnosed’

Modified: Friday, Jun 28th, 2013

"This is me with my 2-year-old granddaughter, Cambry," Diane Harris says. " Who I intend to see graduate from high school." Courtesy photo

EVANSTON — “You are a survivor from the minute you are diagnosed,” Diane Harris, the survivorship coordinator for the 2013 Relay for Life told the Herald. “Regardless of the stage, diagnosis or outcome, you begin surviving.”

And Harris would know, having been diagnosed with stage four melanoma in September of last year. When you get diagnosed, you live with it and you move forward. Harris strongly encourages never paying attention to the numbers — each person’s fight is unique to them.

Diagnosed with melanoma seven years ago, Harris’s cancer has metastasized to different places in her body over the years since her initial diagnosis. She has tried a new treatment called an IL-2, which had her in the ICU at the Huntsman Center in Utah for a week at a time during the course of her treatments, totaling six weeks in all. Harris says her cancer is currently stable, having neither grown nor spread since her most recent diagnosis. She is currently under a watch-and-wait status.

Thankful that her own personal battle is non symptomatic — meaning she wouldn’t know she had cancer if she weren’t undergoing treatments and hadn’t seen her scans — her fight has been mostly pain free. She has friends who battle with her at her treatments, however, who have a different story. Harris says the bond that she shares with those she is surrounded with in the hospital, and during treatments, is unlike any she has ever known before. 

“I am not defined by my cancer,” Harris said. “It’s an inconvenience. It doesn’t define who I am.”

I some ways, Harris said her cancer has been a blessing. Her faith in God has grown stronger. It is really the only thing that, at times, helps you through, she said. Her relationships with people are better. And she sais she has a lot more patience when you realize what is truly important in your life.

Harris feels very blessed by the people she works with, and her family. She has a lot of hope to hold onto, and she says she fully intends to be around in 10 years. Keeping a positive attitude, strengthening your relationships and holding on to your faith is what Harris believes will make anyone a survivor. Take the positive out of it, and try to push past the negative. 

"Everyone's story is different," Harris said. "We are all at a different stage or have a different type of cancer. But what makes me so passionate about the survivorship part of cancer is that, when you are in that room, together, receiving your treatment, you truly understand each other. You fight for and with each other. My family has been a huge support to me, but until you walk in these shoes, you really don't know. No matter how much you care, you can't understand the battle we face unless you face it too. We are survivors.

"When my radiation ended," Harris concluded, "I was sad because I didn't get to see those people anymore. It was like a support group."

Harris said she has kept in touch with some of the others who were at the Huntsman receiving treatments with her.

"We had a common goal," she said. "We were all fighting for our lives. On everyone's last day, we'd bring each other cards."

This year, the Uinta County Relay for Life is like a birthday party, Harris said. They are celebrating everyone who has seen any new milestone.

“The money that we earn at these relays goes to the American Cancer Society,” Harris explained. “Some people have brought up the concern in the past that the money earned does not stay local, it goes to the American Cancer Society fund. The thing to remember is that the fund is used to help local cancer centers and facilities, and for research that helps people with cancer globally. Harris herself has received treatments for her cancer that were unavailable even two years ago, but are available to her — and everyone who has been diagnosed with cancer — through the research money raised through caring Americans doing their part. Without the research money, there wouldn’t be survivors, Harris asserted.

Funds from the Relay are also put back into the local community through American Cancer Society-funded programs such as free transportation grant monies or services, lodging, cancer survivor scholarships, researching new treatments and many other local cancer programs. Information on these programs can be found at www.relayforlife.org/evanstonwy.

The Survivor Reception for the Relay for Life is set for Friday, Aug. 23, at 5 p.m. at Depot Square in Evanston. The Survivor Lap begins at 6 p.m., with caretakers making a lap immediately following. Events will carry over to Saturday, Aug. 24.

If you are a survivor and would like to participate in the Relay, would like more information on cancer organizations in our community, or would like to share your story, contact Diane Harris at Compassionate Journey Home Health Care at (307) 789- 8316.

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