As Susan Williams jogs around the Saddleback College track tonight as part of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, she will be accompanied by the memories of her own battle with the disease.
Williams said she will be thinking, too, of her best friend, who died of cancer in 1995, and of her 19-year-old son, who was was found to have cancer two months before her friend died. His cancer is in remission.
But most of all, she said, she will be be running for her sister, who is undergoing an experimental treatment for bone cancer at City of Hope Hospital in Duarte.
“She was supposed to walk with me during the survivors lap that we run at the start, but she’s feeling a lot of pain,” Williams said. “But she’ll be out there with me in spirit. She’s a survivor too.”
The Relay For Life celebrates the survivors of cancer and raises money for research. Events will be at four Orange County locations tonight: Cal State Fullerton, Orange Coast College, Golden West College and Saddleback College.
“Cancer has gone down steadily in the past five years,” said Jennifer Guenette, a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. “We want people to know that cancer is very survivable, particularly with early testing.”
Teams of as many as 30 people will jog or walk steadily for 18 hours to raise money for the organization. The event will start at 7 p.m. and continue until 1 p.m. Saturday at all sites.
About 16 friends and family members will be on Williams’ team, including three other cancer survivors.
“There is a bond between us that is indescribable,” Williams said. “Your heart goes out to the other person. You don’t have to say any words--you just hug each other and know.”
A full-time dance instructor, the Laguna Niguel resident said she was a poster child for cancer prevention: “Everything the experts say you are supposed to do, I did.”
Then, in 1992, she was diagnosed with the disease.
Williams went through painful treatments to cure her breast cancer, including radiation sessions that caused her hair to fall out.
In 1995, when she ran in the first Relay For Life, Williams’ cancer was in remission.
“Everything looked great,” she said. “But then everything fell apart.”
The next 18 months were disastrous, with her son, sister and best friend all being stricken.
“There were times when I jogged, I’d cry the whole hour I was out there,” she said. “The fear is the worst. . . . You think every headache is brain cancer.”
A fitness advocate, she discovered that beating cancer also takes mental strength.
“You can’t be a Pollyanna and be full of false cheerfulness,” said Williams, who was recruited by her surgeon and pastor to counsel other cancer patients. “But you have to be positive.”
Information: (714) 261-9446.