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Support system crucial to recovery | CANCER AWARENESS
Marilyn Hash sits in the newspaper office, nearing the end of a conversation about her life with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and she’s just been asked what she tells people who have been recently diagnosed. She pauses for a moment and offers this:
“I don’t tell,” she said. “I don’t tell them anything, but I do listen. And often they have questions.
“One of the things I learned… is how lucky I am to have a strong support system.”
Hash was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma on Nov. 10, 2000; you don’t forget a date like that, she said.
It all started after an onset of pain sent Hash to the Enumclaw hospital. Staff initially could not find the cause of the problem. They administered a CT scan on a hunch that she had an aneurysm in her aorta.
“A vascular surgeon came in to look at it, and immediately walked out,” she said.
And then Hash was left alone for what seemed a long time. The next person she saw was Dr. Mary Ballard, her regular physician.
Ballard asked Hash if any doctors had come in to see her. Hash said no.
“She told me, ‘No stranger is going to tell one of my patients they have cancer,’” Hash said.
When she and Ballard ended their visit, Hash knew the disease wasn’t curable; since then, she’s gone through four rounds of chemotherapy and three rounds of radiation treatment in the past 12 years.
Instead, she accepted the diagnosis as a new fact of her life.
“I didn’t have much of an emotional reaction to the news,” she said. “I just asked, ‘Okay, what do I do next?’
“I’ve never had a crying day. I’ve never had a down day. I’ve never said, ‘Why me?’ Why not me?”
Hash’s no-nonsense approach had room to grow. During her first round of chemotherapy, Hash read about the upcoming Relay For Life walk. This was the summer of 2001, and the first year of the American Cancer Society fundraiser in Enumclaw.
She decided to walk in the survivor’s lap. If Hash didn’t have an emotional reaction on the day of her diagnosis, she was saving it for that unseasonably cool summer day on the J.J. Smith Elementary school track.
“That lap had to be so emotional for everyone, and it’s that way every year,” she said. “I don’t know why they don’t give out packets of Kleenex.”
Her first survivor’s lap inspired Hash to involve herself in the American Cancer Society’s cause. She’s served on the organizing committee every year since, formed her own teams with her daughters, and recruited others to the cause. In 2009, she was named a Hero Of Hope, one of a handful of survivors who show an outstanding extended commitment to fighting cancer through Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society.
“Research is our only answer,” she said. “Relay lets us raise the money to find that answer, and I believe we will.”
She also volunteered to drive other patients to treatment, which is how she learned the importance of a support system; by being part of that system for other survivors.
Hash had been lucky in that regard. In addition to her husband Clifford (who passed in 2011) and her daughters, the staff of the Enumclaw Police Department—where she has volunteered for more than 15 years—offered constant support. Dr. Ballard visited her at home the day she left the hospital in 2000. And, in the 12 years since then, she’s picked up another family through Relay for Life.
These various groups and individuals continue to be Hash’s anchors, the people she can rely on during the bad and good days.
Her story doesn’t have an ending, which is the truth every survivor. Rather, through her work with Relay, she endures and hopes for a brighter future.