The town has been “painted purple” by Relay for Life of Eastern Madera County volunteers. The evidence is the purple plastic ribbons that have been tied around light poles, trees and fence posts. The purple ribbons are a reminder of the May 16-17 event at Yosemite High School; this year’s theme is western - “Give Cancer the Boot.”
Team members from 21 teams will walk on the high school track around the clock from 9 a.m. on Saturday until 9 a.m. on Sunday reminding themselves and others that cancer patients and caregivers cannot stop treatments or give up hope just because they are tired. The Luminaria Ceremony, with a special tribute to Rachel Boswell, a YHS employee who died from cancer this past year, will begin at dusk, about 8 p.m.
Richard (Rick) Badgett of Oakhurst is battling esophageal cancer. He was diagnosed in May, 2014, after having difficulty swallowing. A rapid string of events unfolded for the now 70-year-old man.
On a Monday, he went through a process called a barium swallow that allowed doctors to examine the upper portion of his digestive system. There was evidence of a blockage. Two days later, he met with Dr. Soo Kim, a Fresno gastroenterologist who did an endoscopy and found a tumor. By the next Monday, the biopsy report showed that the tumor was cancerous.
“As a Kaiser member I am so satisfied (with the health care received),” Badgett said. The following Wednesday, he had blood work done here in town and a CAT scan in Fresno. An ultrasound and PET scan followed and “within three weeks it was decided what protocol they would follow.”
Badgett underwent a regiment of chemo and radiation for five weeks to reduce the size of the tumor.
“Every Monday, I did chemo and I did radiation every day (Monday-Friday) for five weeks.”
His doctors decided that the tumor has shrunk enough that surgery could be done. An esophagectomy to remove the lower half of his esophagus and pull up part of the stomach to form a portion of the esophagus was scheduled for Sept. 15. As a result, “my stomach is very small now and I lost 35 pounds. I was woodcutting and got a hot dog at Pete’s. I could only eat half of it,” he explained.
Badgett retired at the age of 55 after a 30-year career with Nabisco. He rose through the ranks becoming a Nabisco Safeway account executive in charge of 18 district managers and won a cruise to Bermuda and a Super Bowl trip as the result of outstanding sales.
“My goal is to maintain, at the lowest, 163 pounds and this morning I weighed 170.” In all of his years with Nabisco, “I never ate cookies. Now I have a sweet tooth,” he said. This is one of the side effects of his treatments. He recently treated himself to a box of See’s dark chocolates with nuts. “I eat one piece every night,” he smiled.
According to the American Cancer Society website, estimates for esophageal cancer in the United States for 2015 are: about 16,980 new esophageal cancer cases diagnosed (13,570 in men and 3,410 in women), and about 15,590 deaths from esophageal cancer (12,600 in men and 2,990 in women.”
In spite of the statistics, “The Lord is not going to give you more than you can handle,” Badgett said.
Doctors have given Badgett six to eight months as he currently has cancer activity in lymph nodes in a “location that is totally inoperable. They can’t even do a needle biopsy. Another round of chemo would “not be a cure. It would just be a delaying factor ... I am living day by day,” he said.
Burkett has decided not to undergo treatment at the present time. He and his wife of 46 years, Connie Sue, have decided to spend as much time as possible with their two grown daughters, a son-in-law and four grandchildren.
Badgett has contacted the Veteran’s Administration and filed a claim as he was sent to Vietnam while in the Navy and was exposed to Agent Orange while driving a rough terrain forklift.
He remembers working in clouds of dust in an area that had been completely denuded by the herbicide. He has had heart problems, suffering a heart attack three years ago resulting in a triple bypass.
He has suffered hearing loss and now the cancer means he has suffered three of the four “symptoms” indicative of exposure to the defoliant.
Badgett is thankful for his church family at Sierra Vista Presbyterian who have been very supportive as have his poker buddies, one of whom is an esophageal cancer survivor and who was also exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
On her purple survivor t-shirt, Dianne Abney was able to cross off the number “48” and replace it with a “50” as it has been that long since she was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was in her late twenties.
She had already had her three children and knew that she would probably not be able to have any more after treatment for the cancer. Her children ranged in age from three to a nine-year-old. Her children knew mom was sick for awhile and “they saw I was going to the doctor more often.”
Despite the fact that she was in the midst of a divorce, her husband, his family and her family were very supportive. “I had the support of girlfriends to be able to vent and to talk to,” she said.
Her cancer was diagnosed following a routine pap smear.
“I didn’t have any symptoms and I always felt I did take care of myself with major checkups,” she said.
No one else in her immediate family has had cancer and her mother died of old age at 95.
The course of treatment for her cancer involved cobalt treatments which she described as “similar to chemo.” That was followed with radiation treatments at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles. When she describes her treatment to young doctors today, they are not familiar with it as treatment for this type of cancer has changed.
“My oncologist told me the success of my recovery was my attitude and my age, maybe, and my naiveté. Faith in God, faith in your doctor and faith in yourself,” are the the three things that she said helped her through the whole process of diagnosis, treatment and healing.
Abney has a mammogram every year and a checkup as a part of her health routine. In recent years, she has had trouble with her kidneys and her doctor feels that the radiation exposure during her treatment for the cancer may have caused a build up of scar tissue in her bladder and urethra.
Because of these problems, Abney was in the hospital last year during the Relay event. Otherwise, she would have been there as she has in previous years wearing her survivor shirt, helping the Soroptimists of the Sierras prepare and serve the Relay Saturday lunch or as part of one of the teams.
“(You) totally reevaluate your priorities as far as your mortality is concerned, as far as being important in your children’s lives,” she said describing the emotions she remembers experiencing when she was diagnosed with cancer. “There are certain milestones you want to survive and be there for - graduations, marriages.”
She and husband, Chuck, have had the chance to share many of those milestones with their family. They have been married 42 years and between the two of them they have 13 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
The American Cancer Society estimates about 12,900 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, and about 4,100 women will die from cervical cancer.