Cancer is one of a number of cruel diseases. It does not discriminate: striking men and women, young, middle aged and the elderly, crossing all socio-economic classes. Cancer does not care if the odds are in a patient’s favor or not.
At the Pettis County Relay for Life Friday night, a number of survivors of cancer and their family and friends showed that the odds do matter and that cancer can be overcome.
That message was conveyed with inspiration by JoAnn Perusich, cancer survivor and keynote speaker for the event.
“On October 1, 2014, I was told I had a rare form of cervical cancer (Adenocarcinoma) by my doctor,” Perusich told the crowd gathered at the Jennie Jaynes Activity Complex.
“I asked my doctor what my odds were, “ Perusich said. “She told me, ‘JoAnn, your form of cancer is so rare, we have no stats. It could be anywhere from zero to 100 percent.’ “As a woman of faith,” Perusich added, “I chose 100 percent.”
After a very intensive and aggressive form of weekly treatments over the next eight months, Perusich’s scans have been 100 percent clean since Jan. 1, 2015.
Perusich’s diagnosis came without warning, as is often the case with some types of cancer.
“I had always been very diligent about my yearly exams,” Perusich said. “When I went for my physical last year, I was told because of the new health care regulations and my age, I didn’t need a pap smear.”
Perusich said she was not overly concerned when she was told she did not need the test. She did not question the advice until later.
“I kept having sharp pains in my side and I just didn’t feel right,” Perusich told The Democrat after her remarks. “My husband, (Mike Perusich) is a doctor and he urged me to go back to my doctor for the test.”
It was two days after the test when she was told the news that would change her life and her philosophy on life forever.
“My doctor told me, ‘Jo, we caught it in its early stages, but…’” Perusich said. “When I heard the but, I decided then and there that I was going to make every day count, I was going for the 100 percent.”
Throughout her eight months of weekly, and at times, daily treatments in Lee’s Summit, Perusich drew strength from her faith, family, friends and her students.
Perusich is an instructor in the business department at State Fair Community College. During her treatments, she missed only five days of work.
“I tried to live as normally as possible; I soon discovered that the staff and students at SFCC had my back,” Perusich said. “I needed them and they needed me.”
To get through the days she said her students were always looking out for her, at times strategically placing trash cans throughout the classroom just in case she became ill.
Perusich and her students also took a scheduled field trip to Kansas City to tour some businesses that she felt would be a valuable learning opportunity for her students.
“On the way back home from our trip, the van had to stop and drop me off in Lee’s Summit for my scheduled treatment,” Perusich said. “As I got out of the van my students yelled to me, ‘Mrs. P. you are our gladiator.’
“I felt I needed to be a role model for them,” Perusich told The Democrat. “They were watching me to see how I would handle this. I couldn’t let them down.”
During her battle with cancer, Perusich said she gives credit to her medical team who helped her, “in every way they can.” She also credits the people in her life and the prayer warriors who have been with her throughout her journey.
“Someone told me once,” Perusich said, ‘Some people are blessed with two lives. They start living the second one when they realize they only have one.’
“When I heard my diagnosis I knew, from that day forward…I have to make it count,” Perusich said. “We never know, so we’ve got to make it count.”
Perusich’s sentiment to “make it count” was evident throughout the event for both the cancer survivors and other participants.
According to Melissa McGathy, lead for the Pettis County Relay for Life this year’s event saw an increase in team participation over recent years.
“I’ve been involved with the event for four years now,” McGathy said. “We have 24 teams who registered this year, which is up a little from the past.”
Prior to Friday night’s event, the local chapter had raised $45,000 toward their goal of $70,000.
“I think we’ll reach our goal,” McGathy added. “I have a great committee who has done a tremendous job and I can’t say enough about the teams and everyone who has come to show support.
“A great thing about The Relay for Life events is that a great deal of the money we raise stays in Pettis County,” McGathy said. “It helps with local funding and local patients.”
The committee can accept donations through August to be applied for the 2015 campaign. Individuals or organizations wishing to donate to the Relay for Life fund may contact McGathy at [email protected]