MIAMI COUNTY — The Miami County Relay for Life will be having its 25th anniversary this summer, and for one of its co-chairs, her personal fight with a rare cancer began her involvement before her advocacy and leadership within the event grew.
“I was diagnosed six years ago with a very rare blood cancer called polycythemia vera,” Anderson said.
She initially received a diagnosis of essential thrombocythemia before that progressed to polycythemia vera. Essential thrombocythemia affects bone marrow, producing too many platelets. Polycythemia vera also affects bone marrow, causing the production of too many red blood cells. This causes one’s blood to become thicker.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the “thickened blood flows slower and may clot within your body.” As red blood cells carry oxygen to organs and tissues throughout the body, “if the blood moves too slowly or clots, the cells cannot deliver enough oxygen. This situation can cause serious complications including heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.”
As a result of her condition, Anderson has suffered two strokes. Anderson’s personal fight with cancer continues on as she deals with weekly treatments and doctor visits to keep it under control. She receives many of her treatments at the Dugan Infusion Center, which is part of the Cancer Care Center at the Upper Valley Medical Center.
A couple months ago, Anderson underwent her third bone marrow biopsy. She looked into a possible bone marrow transplant, but doctors determined that she was “too risky” for the procedure.
“The polycythemia has gotten worse and my (chemotherapy) medicines are not working,” Anderson said. “So I went to OSU for a consult for stem cell and bone marrow transplant, and I was not a candidate … Right now, there is no cure for what I have.”
When asked how that reality is affecting her and her family members, she said, “It’s kind of difficult at times. You try to stay strong and keep right on fighting in hopes that one day soon, they’ll find a cure, and that’s why I relay. I relay so that they’ll continue to research the drugs and that new things will become available.”
Anderson said that when she first got diagnosed, “the treatment that was being used, the first treatment that they tried me on, was a treatment that’s been used since the 1960s, and it was the only treatment that was available.”
In Anderson’s case, her body not only produces too many red blood cells, it overproduces white blood cells and platelets as well.
“I overproduce everything. I produce too many red blood cells, too many white blood cells, and too many platelets. So I have to come to the doctor every week. I come for a blood draw every week. Depending upon what my numbers are, then they determine whether or not I have to have blood taken off.”
Anderson said that happens about once every two weeks or once a month and has been for the past six years.
“In the very beginning, it was daily,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who lives outside of Covington, has eight children and is married to Tim Anderson, who she described as her rock. Anderson grew up in Casstown and is a Miami East alumna.
Relay for Life
In the six years that she has been living with this cancer, her journey has grown to include the many people affected by her diagnosis as well as those fighting their own battles with cancer, inspiring her continued participation and leadership in the Miami County Relay for Life.
This year’s 2019 Miami County Relay for Life will be held June 7-8, with the opening ceremony being held at 6 p.m. June 7 and the closing ceremony being held at noon June 8.
Anderson first got involved in Relay for Life after her diagnosis. She said that, at the time of her original diagnosis, her sister was involved with the Shelby County Relay for Life and her Girl Scout troop had a team in that relay, the Pink Daisies, and they sponsored Anderson for that first year.
“At the time, I couldn’t do a whole lot, so … all those girls walked for me, each girl in the troop walked an hour for me,” said Anderson, who walked the survivor lap with her daughter and grandchildren.
Anderson later got involved with the Miami County Relay for Life thanks to Robin Hetzler, her co-chair last year, who got her involved in the DP (Dayton’s Physicians) Crusaders. Then, in 2016, she started Team Belinda.
“Team Belinda, when it first started, it was more just about my journey, my cancer journey, and then as I’ve been involved in relay, I have realized that a cancer journey is more than just about you yourself,” Anderson said. “As you go through treatments, you meet people who have been affected by cancer. Your journey becomes everybody’s journey.”
Her team has since changed their name up a bit to reflect how cancer affects many people, from friends and family to others they meet along the way in their fights against cancer.
“Now, Team Belinda is not just called Team Belinda. Team Belinda is now called Team Belinda and the Cancer Warriors,” Anderson said. “It’s no longer just about me, because on my team, my team is friends and family who have all been affected by cancer. I have cancer. My cousin, who is one of my team captains, she’s a breast cancer survivor. My sister, she now moved to Miami County, so she is on Team Belinda, and her husband is a current cancer fighter. He has a very rare cancer. It’s about his journey also.” She also has another cousin on her team who is a cervical cancer survivor.
Anderson also educates others on cancer as a way to wind down from the Relay for Life events. She now does that with her daughter, previously doing education with another cousin who has passed away from cancer.
“He lost his fight,” Anderson said. “He always went and supported me. He was a fighter, too.” Anderson said that, with the many family members they have who have been diagnosed with cancer, “We all fight. Cancer is very near and dear to us.”
Anderson said that the “most inspiring” part of the Miami County Relay for Life is the Luminaria Ceremony, which helps people honor, support, and remember loved ones affected by cancer. With a donation of $10, a Luminaria bag with that loved one’s name will be lit during the ceremony in their honor.
“They light up the entire track,” Anderson said. All of the Luminaria bags are lit in sequence during the event. Her team last year had 99 participants and 52 Luminaria bags.
Last year, Miami County Relay for Life’s goal was to raise $130,000 for the American Cancer Society, and they surpassed that by raising a total of approximately $175,000. Their goal this year is to raise $150,000.
Anderson said that not only does donating to the American Cancer Society help fund new cancer research, but it also helps people pay for their treatments and eases the financial burdens.
“I relay for everybody else, not just me,” Anderson said.
Anderson will be co-chairing the 2019 Miami County Relay for Life with Cheryl Adkins.
For more information about the Miami County Relay for Life, visit the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life site at main.acsevents.org and search for a local event or follow Miami County Relay for Life on Facebook.
Reach Sam Wildow at email@example.com