OCEAN CITY – The Relay For Life of North Worcester is right around the corner and for one of Ocean City’s own the event hits home.
City Clerk Kathy Mathias was diagnosed in 1997 with breast cancer. She found her first breast tumor when she was only 19 and had three benign surgeries before her diagnosis. During that time, Mathias was working full-time, raising a family and attending college to earn a degree.
“No one is prepared to hear those words from a doctor,” Mathias said. “It’s hard to describe how you feel. How everything you dreamed about, the future you had hoped for you and your family was now in question. Yes, we all know there are no guarantees in life, but the fear that surrounds a cancer diagnosis is shocking for us all.”
Mathias’s husband, Jim, and children, Lauren and Trevor, 15 and 6, at the time, also motivated her to stay strong and continue down her road of success.
“I needed a positive attitude to get through this and I wanted to be a survivor,” Mathias said. “I went through chemotherapy and radiation … Because of my early diagnosis and treatment, I have been able to see my children graduate from high school … and numerous events over the years.”
Once it seemed like Mathias was in the clear in 2007, she said “my world crashed once again.” Almost 10 years after the actual day she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, she learned cancer had progressed to the bone. At that point, she entered into a clinical trial and study.
“I wanted to not only benefit from receiving treatment at a teaching hospital, but to also allow my treatment and progress to assist other patients in the future,” Mathias said.
Since 2007, Mathias has had many ups and downs in her treatment. She has undergone two different courses of chemotherapy and has had radiation on her arms where the lesions had progressed.
“The good news is it’s been four years and other than my treatment days, I’m at work every day,” Mathias said. “When I went to University Hospital in 2007, I walked in with a cane to support me. After about five months, I was able to put the cane away.”
Mathias is looking forward to seeing her son graduate from college next year and go on to medical school.
“I asked him once if my cancer diagnosis had caused him to consider a career in medicine. He told me that what I had gone through made him want to be a better person and help others. I know I gain a lot of strength from my faith and the love and support of my family,” she said.
Mathias has been involved with the American Cancer Society (ACS) since 1989 and at the time of her second diagnosis she was serving her second term as president of the Worcester County Board. She said she chose to work with the ACS because she had a cousin who had died from cancer at the young age of 33 and the organization works to find a cure and “the American Cancer Society fit that bill”.
“I have used some of the many services available to me through the American Cancer Society,” Mathias said.
The ACS also has a supply of free wigs that she has taken advantage of for either herself or her friends who were going through treatment as well.
According to Mathias, the work of the ACS has contributed to a 14-percent decrease in the cancer death rate from 1991 to 2005, avoiding 650,000 cancer deaths.
“I know that I have celebrated 14 more birthdays in part because of the research done by the ACS,” Mathias said. “It’s not just my birthdays, but it’s those of my family and milestones in my children’s lives.”
Mathias said that Relay For Life is especially important because not only does it raise money for cancer research, but it highlights the survivors and their caregivers, giving hope and courage to continue living with cancer. It is also an opportunity to honor those who have lost their battle.
“It’s an incredible event and one that is very uplifting for anyone involved, not just survivors but participants as well,” she said.
ACS’s signature event, Relay For Life, raises funds and awareness of the organization’s life-saving programs of cancer research, education, patient services and advocacy.
Relay For Life of North Worcester is only a couple weeks away, and, as of Monday, April 18, the event has 46 teams, 344 participants and has raised $83,095.
The Relay For Life of North Worcester is scheduled for May 6-7, beginning at 6 p.m. at Frontier Town.
According to ACS Community Manager Debbie White, over 700 people annually attend Relay For Life of North Worcester. Cancer survivors are welcome to join for the first celebratory lap in their honor.
Compliments of Atlantic General Hospital, there will be an outdoor café style reception at 6:30 p.m. There will be live entertainment, campsite activities, delicious food and a candle lighting ceremony at dusk to remember love ones touched by cancer.
Teams can still join by signing up on-line at www.relayforlife.org/northworcester.