Most Viewed Stories
Never too young for cancer
Breast cancer does not just strike older women. That is the message that former Yuma resident Elkie Wills wants to send to local women.
The 39-year-old Wills was diagnosed with cancer last August.
Her message to women under 40: "You need to be responsible for your own health. Cancer is always a possibility. Just because you're young doesn't mean you're not at risk."
Wills recommends regular self-exams, checkups and, if breast cancer runs in the family, mammograms.
"And don't accept 'you're too young.' Don't let anyone tell you that," Wills said.
That's part of the message she'll be sharing with participants of this year's American Cancer Society Relay for Life set for Saturday, April 17 at Desert Sun Stadium. Both Elkie and her husband, Brad, are scheduled to speak at the event. Brad will be talking about providing support and care for someone with cancer. Elkie will talk about how cancer has changed their family yet brought them closer together.
"We're spending much, much more quality time," she said. "My mom, my husband and son, it's bringing us closer."
Wills and her husband, a reporter and weekend weather anchor, moved a year ago to San Diego with their 10-year-old son. The former community relations manager for the Humane Society of Yuma is now in charge of public relations and marketing for the San Diego Humane Society.
When Wills found a lump in one of her breasts, she immediately made an appointment to have it checked out. The nurse practitioner thought it was possibly a fibroid. A mammogram discovered more masses and a biopsy confirmed the cancer four days later.
The diagnosis was upsetting, she said, but she also understood that breast cancer today is not an automatic death sentence.
"I was more concerned with my family," she said.
Wills underwent lumpectomies to remove the masses, followed by chemotherapy. "It was the best course of treatment, but not fun by any means," she noted.
However, doctors have found precancerous cells that could turn to cancer in the long run. She's now weighing her options, including having a mastectomy.
Cancers runs in her family. "That's why I started mammograms early, at age 35," she said.
Her mammograms never turned up anything, which is why she is glad she combined the annual mammograms with a regular self-exam.
Although cancer is a terrible disease, she said, "it makes you appreciate what you have, it makes you look at the world different, look at what you are as a person and how you can be a better person, for myself and my community.
"If you get through this, you can get through anything," she added.
Wills said that she would never wish anyone to be sick, but "you don't realize how much love there is out there until you go through something likes this."
She noted how "people at work, my son's school, people in Yuma, people I don't even know" have been supportive. "You hear so much bad stuff out there, but you realize the world is not such a bad place."
This won't be Wills' first relay. She walked in the event last year. "It was such a great experience. It's such a big event," she said.
Indeed, last year Yuma came in No. 1 in the number of participating survivors - 378 - for its district, which covers half of Arizona and all of New Mexico. Eighty-eight teams and 1,378 people attended the 2009 event. The teams decorated and sold more than 3,000 luminarias.
Organizers say that by all indications, it seems this year's event will surpass last year's numbers.
"This year's Relay for Life is just blowing up," said John Courtis, event co-coordinator. "Our numbers are shooting up."
As of early April, 105 teams and 1,690 participants had signed up and raised $54,049 for the American Cancer Society.
Courtis said people can still start a team, join a team or donate, but the "last big push is for the sale of luminarias," which honor survivors, someone battling cancer or someone who lost the battle.
Courtis said the relay gives participants a chance to celebrate cancer survivors, remember those who lost their fight and fight back against the disease by raising money to fund the search for a cure.
All through the night, participants will camp out at the stadium while team members take turns walking or running around the track. It is an overnight experience because "cancer never sleeps."
Wills said participating in the relay is very important to her because "it's a good time for me to thank Yuma for how wonderful they have been to my family - when I was sick and when I wasn't sick."
She added that she also wants to thank the American Cancer Society for the support and resources they offer cancer victims.
The only requirement to participate in Relay For Life is a $10 "commitment" fee per person that is due upon registration. After that, participants are encouraged to raise money through individual, team or online fundraising. Organizers recommended that each participant set a personal goal of raising at least $100.
For more information about Yuma's Relay For Life, visit www.relayforlife.org/yumaaz.
IF YOU GO
WHEN: April 17-18, 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.
WHERE: Desert Sun Stadium, off Avenue A near 32nd Street
GOING ON: As of early April, 105 teams and 1,690 participants
STATS AND FACTS: Last year Yuma was No. 1 in participating survivors - 378 - for its district. Eighty-eight teams and 1,378 people attended the 2009 event. The teams decorated and sold more than 3,000 luminarias.