St. Henry Relay for Life team captain shares breast cancer experience
At the Orange County Relay for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, participants “Celebrate, Fight Back, Remember.”
Olivia Dillow, the team captain of the St. Henry Catholic Church Youth Ministry relay team, says the event is an opportunity to raise money to find an end for cancer. The team, comprised of youth ages 12-18 from the church in Bridge City, has been involved in Orange County’s Relay for Life for 11 years. Dillow, as youth minister, has captained the team for the past three years.
“Our youth group likes to participate in a number of service projects. Relay for Life hits close to home for many of our young adults.
“I tell my youth that cancer touches everyone. At some point in their life they will know someone who has fought cancer, is fighting cancer or who has died from cancer. By participating in Relay for Life we are helping these families that are going through this difficult time in many different ways,” she said.
Dillow, 32, speaks from experience. She was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in May 2005 at the age of 27.
At that time, her two children were two, and six months old.
“I found a lump in my right breast. I went to my family doctor who sent me for an ultrasound. The radiologist said that it was a clogged milk duct, but my family doctor felt is should be removed. From there I went to Houston,” she said.
She underwent chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation.
“I was scared. I had watched my aunt die of cancer and had always told myself that I never wanted to do chemotherapy. But, I fell back on my faith and knew that God would not give me anything I could not handle,” she said.
And now, Dillow is four years out of treatment.
“This is a new life, life after cancer. Today, I value each and every moment I have. I know that I was very sick and I know that I could get sick again so I try to live in the moment,” she said.
She also believes in the importance of participating in Relay for Life.
Dillow said, “The youth of St. Henry all know the personal struggle I have had with cancer, and there are a couple in our group that have been personally touched by cancer.”
“I think for the young adults to see me, and see that I have been down this road; it makes it real for them,” she said.
The Relay provides the mechanism for fighting back through funding cancer research, as well as education programs and services for Orange County cancer patients.
Relay for Life also remembers those who have lost their battle in a special candlelight Luminaria ceremony.
There, Dillow will remember and honor her aunt who lost her battle with pancreatic cancer and also honor other family members who are breast cancer survivors, as well as others.
Through Relay, she will also help the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life to educate young women.
“My message would be to know your body. If you feel something is not right, get it checked out. Breast cancer in young women is very aggressive so the earlier it is detected the better,” she said.
Additionally, Dillow will participate in a survivor’s lap at 6:30 p.m. which will officially open the 11th Annual Orange County Relay for Life.
“Now that we are several years out, I sometimes get caught up in everyday life. The cancer seems like something that happened many years ago. Relay gives me the chance to stop and remember. It’s that moment when I can say I did it. I don’t know if I will be cancer free tomorrow, I don’t know if I can be cancer free in two years; but on that night I am cancer free and I fought a good fight,” she said.
Dillow and her husband Tyson have two children: Julian, six; and Grace, five.
Relay for Life is the signature event of the American Cancer Society.
For more information about participating in this year’s event April 30 and May 1 at the Bridge City High School football stadium, contact Kerri Morrell at 330-4131 or 670-7459; or Jacki Burleson at 835-2139. Teams may also register by visiting http://www.orangecounty.relay.org