A Letter From Honorary Survivor Lisa Dudley

My name is Lisa Dudley and I was chosen as the honorary survivor for the 2008 Relay For Life. I can’t tell you what an honor and privilege it was for me to be asked.   Mary Dunbar-Daluisio and the Relay For Life committee need to be commended for all their hard work and efforts in making the relay for life a success every year!

I remember when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I asked when am I really called a “cancer survivor.”  I looked up the definition of “cancer survivor” and this is what I read. Cancer survivors are those individuals with cancer of any type, current or past. From the time of diagnosis, and for the balance of life, a person diagnosed with cancer is a survivor. This also includes family, friends and caregivers who are affected by the diagnosis in any way. Therefore, no matter what type of cancer you have or had, no matter what treatment you received, everyone who has been touched by cancer is a survivor.

I want to begin to tell you a little bit about my cancer journey and myself.   I am 43 years old and I am proud to say I have been breast cancer free for almost 3 years now.  I have two children, Kara, age 15 and Eric, age 10, the lights of my life.  I have been married to my high school sweetheart Michael Dudley for 23 years now.  

At age 40, In March of 2005 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I had gone for my routine mammogram and instead of being sent home with good news; I was told there was several suspect spots on my right side.   I believe at that moment, I knew it was cancer.  I am a firm believer in living a healthy life and I run 5 miles 3 times a week faithfully. Cancer can appear in your life at anytime and no one is excluded.  After a pretty intense biopsy and anxiety filled days of waiting, I was told over the phone I had breast cancer.  My family was with me the moment my life changed in a split second. If you ever wondered what it would feel like to be told you have cancer, you were now living it. The hardest part of cancer in the beginning is telling your family.  My family was with me when I got the news.  I began to cry and they just knew.  I remember telling my kids that night that this will be okay and I will do everything to get better for them. My parents were not at my house that night so I had to call them.   My parents are Grace and Richard Aswad.  My mom is a 3-time cancer survivor.  Two years before my diagnosis, she had breast cancer.  Three years later she was diagnosed with colon cancer and just recently she had a large mass removed from her leg, a cancer called sarcoma.

From left:  Lisa Dudley & Mary Dunbar-Daluiso

  My mom is truly my inspiration.  If you look at her, she looks so beautiful and stunning and you would never know what my mom has been through and she has survived it all.  We call her amazing Grace!   She is like a rock and I know with her faith, the love for her family and life, she has beaten it all.  I am doing the relay this year in honor of my mom who was by my side my entire cancer journey. 

My parents, my four sisters, Lynn, Laura, Louise and Lana, my brother in laws and my nieces and nephews were with me every step of the way and I could not have gotten through this time without them.  All my sisters live out of town but they took turns coming home to be with me.  The times we would just sit and talk were the best times of all.  My mother and father in law, Katie and Gerry Feyerabend are also both cancer survivors and were a great support to me as well.  My friends also surrounded me with so much care and support.  My running was always important to me and I continued to run during my treatments.  This was the constant in my life I did not want to change and god gave me the strength to keep running.  I even ran the Fourth of July race after my first chemo treatment.   What a thrill that was when I beat my husband at the finish line!! Ha! Ha! 

My husband and children were the focal point in my cancer journey.  I wanted to beat this thing and be there for them no matter what it took.  I wanted to keep them laughing, keep their lives as normal as possible, and keep their worries few.  My husband Mike was always there when I just needed a hug and a shoulder to cry on.  I know it was hard for him.  A moment that I will never forget is when my daughter Kara put makeup on me after I lost my hair at the “look good, feel good” class offered by the American Cancer Society.  It was truly a bonding experience with my daughter.  My son Eric made me a cancer sticker chart before chemo started.  It was a poster with a mountain drawn on it by Eric and every chemo treatment I had, I got a sticker, and at the end I got lots of stickers!!!  They were all different kinds of smiley faces and he would pick one that had hair on it when I was nearing the end of my treatments.  That chart will always hold a special place in my heart.  My dad gave me a dozen yellow roses at my last chemo treatment and we all celebrated!  

In October of 2005, I had finished all of my cancer treatments, a lumpectomy surgery, chemo and radiation.  I had done it with my faith, wonderful doctors and nurses, and the support of all those around me, it was now time to start my new “normal life.”  Cancer changes your life but it allows you to see what is important to you and all the love that surrounds you.  Cancer just doesn’t go away, it is something you have to learn to accept because you will always need to have checkups and continue fighting the fight and living life to the fullest.

The 2005 Relay For Life was the first relay I attended and the one that I will never forget. Laura Kose, my special friend and breast cancer survivor, had sent me a beautiful card and invited me to attend.  The relay was held in June right before I was going to start chemo.  It felt as though this was all part of the plan.  I took my mom’s hand and we walked around the track in our purple shirts.  Everyone was clapping and cheering and I just began to sob like I never did before.  Looking into the faces of all the survivors, the family members who had lost a loved one, those people who knew someone walking around the track and seeing all the care givers and supporters gave me such strength and from that moment on I knew I was going to beat this!  I knew I was not alone and there was a whole world out there working hard to someday find a cure for cancer.  My good friend Mary Jane Fonte took a picture of my mom and I that evening and it will always mean so much to me!

Each year the Relay For Life raises more and more money than the year before and we will keep doing it until we find that cure.   We can never give up!  I made the survivors a favor for the kickoff and on it I wrote, “always reach for the stars and have hope in your heart.”   Reach for the stars by living life to the fullest and that hope is to wipe out cancer!  I have made it part of my life now to help others going through cancer as those who had cancer supported me when I was going through it.  I feel a need to reach out to them with either a phone call, email, card or a visit to let them know they can overcome this.  I have made lifelong friends by doing this. Cancer survivors are truly bonded!

I will conclude my story by saying I am sharing this honorary survivor title with all of the survivors and with all those loved ones who cancer took away from us. They are all in my heart and will be with me when I walk around that track.   My husband lost his father, Roger Dudley, to cancer.  My heart goes out to anyone who has lost someone from this disease. There are no words to ease the pain but our actions will speak louder. 

Please come and join us on February 12th at the Grand Island High School, 7:00 p.m. for the Relay For Life Kick-Off and I want to see you on that high school track on June 6-7th!!   So let’s celebrate, remember, and fight back!