Relay participation spurred by breast cancer diagnoses
Ingrid Maehl keeps an old photo of herself and three friends on her nightstand.
It is a reminder of how important friendship is, but it is also a reminder of the importance of fighting to find a cure for cancer.
“They say it’s one in eight women who will have breast cancer,” she said. “I have a picture of four women, and three of them had breast cancer.”
Maehl herself is one of those women, a cancer survivor of five years; one of the women, Julie Downey, lost her battle with the disease a year and a half after diagnosis. This is one of the many reasons the Overland Park resident will participate in the Kaw Valley Relay For Life, beginning at 7 p.m. June 8 at Bonner Springs High School, for her seventh year this year.
Ready to relay?
For more information about participating in or donating to the Kaw Valley Relay For Life, contact Robert Wilson at 816-807-6871 or email@example.com or Carol Tepper at 913-441-8211 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit relayforlife.org/kawvalleyks.
Maehl became friends with Downey in high school, and a year later, Kim Frazier joined their group of friends. Maehl said she had no experience with cancer before Downey’s diagnosis in 1998.
Downey was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer two months after giving birth to her second son; she died a year and a half later at age 36.
Then, in October 2005, Frazier was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive breast cancer, discovered in her first mammogram.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Maehl said. “How could this happen to two of my closest friends?”
It wasn’t long before cancer dealt another blow — just five months later, in February 2006, Maehl discovered a lump. She went in for a mammogram, thinking it was nothing, but she also was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive breast cancer.
She said the first thing she did was call Frazier and Laura Kisro, Downey’s sister.
“I had watched Julie die from the disease and was watching the effects the chemo was having on Kim,” Maehl said. “Once I was diagnosed, Kim swung in to action. She took me to the bookstore and told me what books to get, she went with me to the wig shop to get my wig. When I was feeling sorry for myself, she came over and we had a support group.”
Maehl’s cancer treatments also almost perfectly mirrored those of her good friend: she had a mastectomy of her right breast, aggressive chemotherapy over a 16-week period, and five weeks of radiation. When she went in for a mammogram on the left breast a year after diagnosis, it came back cloudy.
“So at that point, I said, I’m not dealing with this for the rest of my life,” Maehl said.
Her doctor recommended a second mastectomy, and Maehl and Frazier scheduled their mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries together — at the same time, on the same day, with the same doctor.
Frazier also got Maehl involved with the Relay For Life in 2006. A friend of Frazier’s served on the Kaw Valley event’s organizing committee, and the two went to the survivor dinner.
“By the time dinner was over, I had a survivor T-shirt, I was on the survivor roster and Kim and I carried the survivor banner,” Maehl said. “I was so impressed by the Kaw Valley Relay For Life that I decided that I would participate from now on.”
Since she began participating in the event, Maehl has had more and more brushes with cancer, even outside of the friends she has made through the relay. Two of Maehl’s aunts have been diagnosed with cancer, one of them succumbing to the disease in 2009. Downey’s mother also was diagnosed with cancer, dying just a few months later, and a daughter of another friend died of bone cancer at age 17.
So Maehl continues to relay and hopes others will take up the fight. The picture on her nightstand is a daily reminder to fight for a cure.
“It continues to amaze me that of the four of us, three of us had breast cancer,” she said. “I miss Julie every day but I am thankful that the advances in research helped Kim and I survive.
“... I will continue to walk in honor of those who have lost their battles with cancer and I walk for those of us who have survived cancer and continue to thrive.”