Remembering warriors lost but not left behind in cancer battle

Julie Richardson Procter Walk of Survivorship balloon release

Her body ravaged by life-sustaining blood cells turned mortal enemies, the cancer that took her energy, that took her hair, that took her breasts, that took her life could never take her spirit. Nor will it damper the memories we keep of the life she lived.

Julie Rogers Gift of Life Program founder Regina Rogers remembers the program's namesake, her family matriarch, as one of many strong women who faced their fears head-on and fought a valiant fight against a terror from within.

"My mom, Julie, was a very brave and courageous soul," Rogers reminisces. Julie Rogers' battle with breast cancer, her daughter said, was marked by a double mastectomy at the age of 72. The surgery was followed five years later by a stroke that left her completely paralyzed in all but her left arm and unable to speak. Julie Rogers died six years later at the age of 83 from complications following a heart attack.

But her memory lives on. Julie Rogers and her battle against cancer will forever be memorialized in the program that carries on her legacy of being a source of comfort and support for other women and men who are enduring battles against their own cancers. Warriors such as Julie Richardson Procter, whose contribution to the Gift of Life program is celebrated annually during the non-profit's survivor celebration, found a place to share their battles against breast and ovarian cancer while at the same time serving as friends and confidantes to others going through their own personal hell. Procter passed on in 2011.

Georgiana Volz, whose love for life and effervescent personality in service to others sparked the "Shine a Light" award in her honor, shared her ups and downs with the friends-turned-family network of supporters at the Gift of Life until her cancer-related death in 2010. Although no longer on the frontlines of the fight, her memory is never far, says Gift of Life executive director Norma Sampson. There are many of these such spirits, Sampson added: Lola Campbell Wilber, age 40; Debbie Falgout, 63; Mildred Manion, 71; Heather Rose Graham, 33; Laura Purkey, 30. The list goes on.

The list of survivors is growing, too. With every mobile mammography site, with every educational endeavor to educate women and men on the value of early detection, with every opportunity afforded to medically underserved populations who would otherwise not have access to treatment, the Gift of Life fosters a list of success stories, the stories of those who have beat cancer or who have extended their lives with the power of knowledge and medical intervention.

Survivors like Janice Smith still reap the rewards of efforts expended by those who have fought the good fight.

"My experience with the Gift of Life was wonderful, and I am so grateful that they were there to help me," Smith said. "Their supportive staff provided compassion and care throughout my treatment. I am so blessed that the Gift of Life caught my cancer early, before it could spread. This is the best program in our community, and I encourage other women to be screened."

"Throughout all the hardships, I never lost my hope or inspiration because of my family and the amazing efforts of the Gift of Life," cancer survivor Sherry Paschal said, whose sentiments were echoed by single mom and cancer warrior Margaret McReynolds, who worked her whole life but still can't afford health insurance.

"I've donated to the Gift of Life in the past, never knowing that I might need that help someday," McReynolds said. "You can't measure the kindness I've felt from this program. I might have died without that mammogram."

To assist in the Gift of Life's ongoing, year-round efforts, contact the program at (409) 833-3663, toll-free at (877) 720-4438, or via e-mail at info [at] giftoflifebmt [dot] org.

To view our feature focusing on warriors against breast cancer, "warriors not forgotten" visit http://theexaminer.com/features/commentary/warriors-not-forgotten 

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