Woman honors lost friend at Relay
Reprinted from the Seminole Chronicle, March 24, 2010
OVIEDO - When luminaries at Lawton Chiles Middle School fill the night with a soft but persistent glow, the many tiny, flickering lights will come together to spell "hope" across the grounds.
The flicker of Michelle Haug's luminary will be telling its own story: one of hope and of remembrance.
Haug, a cancer survivor for 13 years, will be walking in the Oviedo Relay for Life not only in celebration of her own victory over cancer, but also to remember and honor a dear friend.
Haug's best friend, Anita Russell, died on March 4 of multiple myeloma less than two years after being diagnosed.
Multiple myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells in blood marrow. Haug's father died of this cancer 30 years ago - and there is still no cure.
"My father had died of this insidious, awful form of cancer 30 years ago," Haug wrote in an article about cancer awareness. "He was given two years, and that's exactly how long he survived. Surely I thought, in this day and age, there were advancements that would give Anita a much longer and better quality of life. ... (But) my best friend had two months less than my father had 30 years ago."
While Haug says she is grateful that she has survived her own fight with cancer, she participates in events like Relay for Life to push for research that could someday prevent the deaths of those like Russell and her father, who develop cancers for which medicine has no answer.
Thirteen years ago, doctors discovered that what they thought had been a fibroid (non-cancerous) tumor in Haug's uterus was actually endometrial stromal sarcoma, a cancer that develops in the inner tissue of the uterus.
This rare form of cancer represents just 1 percent of all uterine cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
The cancer is so rare that Haug said doctors didn't know what her chance for survival was. Haug's cancer was high-grade, which is more aggressive and responds differently to treatment.
After a hysterectomy and six weeks of radiation, however, Haug's cancer was gone. She is still cancer-free, and she says she is deeply grateful for her life.
"I used to say if I could just have a year or two I'd be so happy; now it's been 13 years," Haug said. "I'm here because of prayer. I just feel like I'm a miracle."
This will be Haug's third year participating in the Oviedo Relay for Life, an event held all over the U.S. by the American Cancer Society.
Relay for Life is an all-night event during which teams walk laps around a track to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Because "cancer never sleeps," teams camp out at the event and someone is on the track at all times throughout the night.
Haug's first year, she walked at Relay for Life to celebrate her own victory over cancer. Last year, Haug walked to fight for the life of Russell, who had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. This year, she will walk wearing a button that honors the life of her friend.
"I know she will be watching; I just wish she was walking with me," Haug said.
Haug is walking with the Hagerty Moms and Friends team. She is one of the Oviedo Relay's top participants this year, having individually raised more than $1,000.
Oviedo Relay for Life at Lawton Chiles Middle School starts at 6 p.m. on March 26 and ends at noon the next day. The Luminaria Ceremony will take place at 9 p.m.
To get involved or for more information, go to www.relayforlife.org/oviedofl .