Cheer on Survivors

RFL-WalMart Kickoff 09 071
Story of Survival
Published in The Missourian on 5/30/13
Written by By Karen Butterfield, Missourian Staff Writer

For Wendy Wildberger, who has been involved with the Relay For Life of Franklin County on and off since its beginning 18 years ago, the Relay is personal.

In 1990, at the age of 10, she was diagnosed with astrocytoma, a tumor in her spinal cord.

The tumor was removed surgically, but three years later, Wildberger relapsed. This time, she was treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Treatments lasted eight hours per day, two to three days per week.

In 2001, Wildberger was labeled “terminal” and told she didn’t have much longer to live. Because of nerve damage, she is paralyzed.

Her tumor eventually “settled” and hasn’t caused any further nerve damage, she said.

“I never really felt that I was terminal,” Wildberger said. “I was determined to prove the doctors wrong, and at 33, I’m still here. I have proved them wrong.”

Wildberger said that as a survivor, Relay is another opportunity to celebrate that she has beaten cancer.

This year also holds special meaning for her, since it’s the 100th birthday of the American Cancer Society.

Wildberger said she’s amazed at the advancements even just in treatment, as now, people can choose oral chemotherapy and spend much less time at the doctor’s office.

“Personally, I’m looking forward to it being the 18th year of Relay in Franklin County,” she said. “We have such a great community of survivors, caregivers and citizens who come out to support our cause.”

Wildberger reminds people that you don’t have to have cancer to attend the Relay.

“Anyone can cheer on a survivor,” she said.

More than 150 cancer survivors will walk around the track in unity [during the Survivors’ Lap].

“I can’t wait to see the full track of survivors,” Wildberger said. “It always gets me. It’s overwhelming to see all the purple shirts (survivors wear).”

This year’s longest cancer survivor [attending their event] is celebrating 47 years of survival. The newest person was just diagnosed a few weeks ago.

“Even if you’re not affected personally by cancer, as a community, we can support our survivors,” Wildberger said. “Pack the track and make some noise for them.”


A Survivor’s Story

A cancer survivor shared their story as a great reminder of why we Relay.

I was diagnosed with cancer on Friday, April 20, 2012.  I never thought it would happen to me – I know plenty of people who have had this nasty disease, but it was always others, never me or my family; until “that day”.  “That Day” started off with a routine doctor’s visit that led to 4 sets of tests (blood, x-ray, MRI and CT scan) and three doctors.  Final verdict: cancer.

My first thoughts were “not me”, “second opinion” and “how am I going to tell my kids?”  I drove home in a daze and turned on my computer and Googled “cancer”.  Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t search my type of cancer (bone) but for some reason I just typed cancer and searched, maybe it was fate.  The first thing that came up was The American Cancer Society webpage.  I clicked the link and spent over an hour just looking through all the information and resources.  There was so much I became overwhelmed and decided to just call the phone number they gave.  The first thing you should know about me is that I hate talking on the phone – ask my kids and they will tell you that I will do anything and everything I can to not have to speak to people on the phone.  But I realized that this was bigger than me and I needed help sifting through the information I was given by doctors and reading online.  So I called and I believe that call is what is going to save my life.  Let me explain…

When I called I spoke with the sweetest lady who listened.  I didn’t realize I had so much to say in just a few short hours of learning this information but I did!  Then she asked me a few questions – simple ones I could actually answer!  Then she gave me information – explained a few terms the doctor had said that I didn’t know what they were.  She told me about the different treatment options the doctors had mentioned and what they meant.  Then she told me that while she finished gathering more information that she would email me, she wanted me to know that there was a Relay For Life event being held at the Haralson County High School later today.  I told her I had seen a sign around town for it but didn’t really know what it was or think I had a connection (karma???!!?).  She said I might want to go over to it and gave me some details on it.  I hung up feeling a lot better knowing some more information on this terrible thing in my body but still feeling doubtful – how am I going to fight this?  What will my family think?  I don’t want to be known in our small community as “the lady with cancer”.  I decided to go to the grocery store and while driving I passed three signs about Relay For Life.  I got the not-so-subtle hint from God that I was supposed to go.  This is the part where that call changed my life.

I pulled up to the high school and could not believe how many cars were there – I guess this thing that was going on was a big deal! I parked and was taken by golf cart down to the track and ushered directly under a huge tent.  There they gave me a shirt that said “I Am Hope”.  Those words still send tingles down my side.  After a dinner of subs, salads, fruit and veggies we had a balloon release and there were several people who had been survivors for over 25 years.  As I walked that first lap with everyone cheering me on, I realized why I was hope…. In 25 years I will be letting go of my balloon for the person who gets diagnosed and comes to their first Relay For Life.  I spent time walking around the track, talking with people and eating things that my doctors will probably tell me soon I shouldn’t be eating.  I kept hearing talk about a candle lighting ceremony that was going to happen soon so I waited around and enjoyed all the great skits, singers and bands that were playing.  The luminaria ceremony was my breaking point.  While sitting in the bleachers surrounded by a thousand people that I don’t know, who don’t know me or my whirlwind 12 hours, I never felt as loved or supported as I did then, thanks to the American Cancer Society and my local community.  I knew then, in that moment of silence, that I will win this fight against this thing called cancer because of all of the people fighting for me here at this event.

Next week is my first chemotherapy treatment and I have already picked out what I will wear – my I Am Hope Relay survivor shirt to let everyone there know that I will beat this and I will be their hope.  Thank you to the American Cancer Society and the amazing people of my community for putting on such an amazing event.  You’ll never know how much that night meant to me.

Local resident – a 44 YEAR cancer survivor – inspires community to Relay For Life

Billie Wesson, a 44 year cancer survivor, before a Relay For Life meeting

Billie Wesson has been a cancer survivor for a long time. In fact, almost her entire life. In 1968, Wesson was diagnosed with bone cancer when she was just two years old and her leg had to be amputated. Fortunately, the doctors caught it early enough that she did not have to receive any further treatment, and she’s been cancer-free ever since.  For the past decade, this local 44-year cancer survivor, has encouraged the community to become a part of a powerful event: Relay For Life.

“I not only participate in Relay For Life for myself, but also for my grandmother, who lost her battle to kidney cancer five years ago,” Wesson said. “I’ve been attending Relay events for 10 years and it’s a great experience every year.”

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life unites friends, families, businesses, hospitals, schools and churches…people from all walks of life. This fun-filled, overnight event mobilizes communities throughout the country to celebrate survivors, remember loved ones lost, and raise money for the fight against cancer. Teams seek sponsorship prior to the Relay, all with the goal of supporting local patients, advocacy efforts, and ultimately a cure for cancer.

Billie plans to fight back through the Relay For Life of Central St. Charles on Friday, July 13 this year. But no matter where you live, there’s a Relay near you.

 “Relay For Life brings the progress against cancer to the forefront,” said Ben Prinster, a Relay For Life event chair. “Many participants are our family, friends and neighbors who have been cured of cancer themselves. Their involvement is proof of the progress that has been made not just in cancer cure rates, but also in the quality of life following cancer treatment.”

Information about how to form a team or become involved in Relay For Life is available by calling us locally at (314) 286-8156 or visiting For more information on cancer, call the American Cancer Society’s 24-hour help line at 1-800-227-2345 or visit

*Content for this article provided by Kanna Taylor, RFL of Central St. Charles PR volunteer

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