It wasn't even a year ago that Janet Burkett had a routine mammogram. Having no symptoms and no family history of breast cancer, she didn't think much of it until her results came back showing a small tumor.
"It was obviously very scary because I lost both my parents from cancer," she said. "But once I talked to the surgeon and the doctors they explained advanced treatments, it wasn't so scary anymore because there is so much hope with those treatments now."
Fortunately for Burkett, early detection was key in her prognosis. Only at stage 1, the cancer hadn't spread. She underwent surgery and radiation and says everything is clear at this point.
She said what is most important about her story is early detection and said that since her diagnosis, her biggest concern now is stressing the importance of regular exams to family members. Her family has already suffered a lot from cancer. Burkett's tumor was so small that she said the only way it could have been detected was through a mammogram. Fortunately for her, she said she has always kept up with her exams.
"If you're diagnosed early there are marvelous new treatments and your chances of survival are wonderful," she said. "Raising awareness of getting women to doctors is critical."
Years ago, Burkett's employer, Sprint, was a sponsor for the Susan G. Komen Foundation and she has participated in Relay for Life three times. However, now that she has a personal survivor story, she said the whole experience is very different.
"You feel almost as if you are part of a sisterhood ," she said. "I have a number of friends who have had cancer and some I've lost."
Burkett said she lost her best friend last year from cancer.
"Anybody can end up having cancer -- man, woman, child -- and I don't think there's a person out there that doesn't know somebody that hasn't been affected," she said.
However Burkett wants to spread a message of hope by letting women know that they don't have to be terrified by breast cancer.
"If your fear makes you stagnate, that stagnation is making you risk your health and risk your life," she said. "People are scared and you can't blame them. They might have concerns as to how it might affect their career or relationships. Many people are affected and it doesn't have to be bad news if you get it taken care of right away."
Burkett said the whole experience has changed her and made her realize what's important.
"I think it gives you an inner strength," she said. "Sometimes you find out you're stronger than you think you are when you overcome a terrifying experience. It makes you set your priorities straight and you realize what's really important. Family has always been important to me but it just reinforces that. It reinforces the need to communicate with your family, especially the women in my family, by letting them know you don't have to be afraid of that kind of thing."
Relay for Life
The 13th Annual Relay for life will begin Saturday with opening ceremonies at 9 a.m. at Wasuma Elementary School in Ahwahnee. There are 21 teams (166 participants) who will walk for 24 hours, remembering those lost to cancer and raising money to find a cure. The relay will begin at 9:30 a.m. with the Survivor's Victory Lap.
"We love to celebrate cancer survivors and knowing that we are always getting closer to a world with more birthdays," said Doris Brekhus, event co-chairperson.
Events will be held throughout the day. On-stage events throughout the day include: a crazy hat contest, line dancing, karaoke and jeopardy.
At 8 p.m. Saturday the Luminaria Ceremony will be held.
"The Luminaria Ceremony is very somber with many remembering our loved ones that have passed," Brekhus said. "All of the lighted luminaria bags around the track makes for an awesome tribute to those family members and friends."
Brekhus said what they hope to see accomplished is to have more people aware of Relay for Life and the purpose of raising funds to help patients with cancer, whether it is through education, transportation, support and research.
Saturday's breakfast will be provided by the Oakhurst Lutheran Church, lunch will be provided by the Soroptimist of the Sierras and dinner will be served by the Oakhurst Rotary Club. At midnight hot soup will be provided by The Produce Place.
In 2010 the event was recognized for being second in the country of funds raised per capita. Last year the event raised $88,500 and in 2010 the event raised $115,000.
This year two supporters of Relay for Life are being remembered -- Oakhurst 2008 Man of the Year Ron Alan Foster, who died unexpectedly from a stroke March 21 at the age of 68, and Dorothy Lowe Phillips, who died Feb. 19, 2012 at the age of 72 after a long battle with cancer. Phillips was a team captain and guest of honor at last year's event.
Details: Doris Brekhus, (559) 760-9698, main.acsevents.org/site/TR?pg=entry&fr_id=36553