BUCKHANNON – For the first time, Upshur County Relay for Life’s longtime cheerleader Linda Wolfe and former event chair addressed attendees of the 2019 event on Saturday as a cancer survivor.
Wolfe – whose mother’s battle with breast cancer had prompted her to dutifully seek out yearly mammograms – began her journey as a cancer survivor Dec. 27, 2018, with a mammogram at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
However, the message she wanted to share with supporters gathered in Jawbone Park on a steamy Saturday evening was that although she might be a survivor, she’s still Linda.
Wolfe recalled her reaction to receiving the news that a subsequent biopsy returned results positive for invasive lobular carcinoma, a type of breast cancer that originates in the milk-producing glands. The cancer is sometimes hard to spot because it doesn’t manifest as a lump in the breast but a thickening in part of the breast.
“It’s a very emotional thing for anybody when you first find out,” she said. “There’s a lot of emotions that go through your head. I thought to myself, ‘how am I going to handle this?’
“I thought to myself, ‘God, I’m going to have to take a journey with you, and I want you to be part of that journey, and I want it to be a joyful journey. I don’t want to give up who I am because everybody knows me as the big cheerleader and the big laugher and so forth.’”
Wolfe read a poem titled, “A Letter to My Cancer” because she said it best summed up the attitude she embraced throughout the ordeal.
“It may seem like you have control of my life right now, but you don’t,” Wolfe read. “Your presence only makes me stronger, braver, kinder, wiser. I choose how I think, what I speak and how I love. You will never be able to touch those things, never.
“The fear of your name no longer haunts my soul because I know that my soul belongs to me, and it belongs to God. You may take your claim on this frail, outer shell, but never on my Divine Spirit that cries out, ‘I am not my body.’ My soul will run, my soul will leap and tower over the attempts to pull me down into despair.”
“You do not own me,” she concluded. “I own myself, and I will survive.”
In her earlier comments, Wolfe said she particularly wanted to thank the network of family, friends and church members who bound together and prayed for her; the X-ray technician who spotted the irregularity in her breast; and most of all, God and Jesus Christ.
“It’s not a cancer that forms as a lump in your breast,” she explained. “It’s a hardening, it’s a thickening of the tissues, and a lot of times, it’s a very, very hard thing to see on a mammogram.”
Wolfe says she knows the name of the technician who read her mammogram and considers her a guardian angel.
“I can’t wait until the next time I go [to Morgantown] because I’ll tell you the truth: She’s my angel,” she said. “She’s the one that read my mammogram, and said, ‘I think I see something.’”
Wolfe’s journey with cancer involved three chemotherapy treatments, which made her ill, while her husband and caretaker, Jim Wolfe, was simultaneously trying to get her to drink 60-70 grams of protein a day in accordance with doctor’s orders.
Still, after the treatments, Wolfe’s cancer hadn’t shrunk, so she opted to have a mastectomy performed.
“It was a small sacrifice – a small sacrifice – when I think about all the things Jesus has done for me,” she emphasized. “It’s my privilege – it’s my honor to be able to speak to you this evening, mainly because I’m not speaking about my cancer as much as I’m praising the Lord for who He is. It says in Romans 19:26 ‘With God, all things are possible.’”
Following her mastectomy and the removal of 14 lymph nodes, Wolfe learned radiation wouldn’t be necessary: her lymph nodes and body were cancer-free.
“I want to say to you tonight that I am cancer-free,” she said. “Completely cancer-free, and I give all that praise and glory to God, my Savior.”
Mike Alkire, senior communications manager from the American Cancer Society, said he had a lot of thank-yous to deliver as well – primarily to the Upshur County Relay for Life event organizing committee, Relay for Life team captains and of course, the survivors who donned purple shirts.
“I’m just really happy to work with them,” Alkire said of the Upshur County Relay for Life committee. “They just put on a really great event.”
Daisy Hunt and Lori Harris co-chaired the event, which got underway at 4 p.m. and featured an opening ceremony just after 6 p.m. with a survivors’ and caretakers’ lap around Jawbone Park.
Harris said fundraising was down a bit in 2019, but not by much.
“Right now, we’ve raised about $36,000, and we’re expecting another check, so we’ll probably raise about $50,000,” she said. As of Monday, Relay had officially raised $36,991.81, according to its website.
“It’s down a little bit but not that much,” Harris said. “Some people have other obligations, medical bills if they’re survivors and things like that.”
The grand total raised will be announced next month.
Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society’s hallmark fundraising event, and money from nationwide events are used to fund cancer research, provide emotional support to cancer patients and provide free lodging to cancer patients receiving treatments, among other efforts, according to Relay’s website.