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Keeping the beat
Survivors taking Relay to heart
0409 Leach book
Richard Leach, a cancer survivor, lost his daughter and his grandmother to cancer. - photo by Photo by Calli Arnold
April 9-10, 2010

7:00        Opening Ceremonies with Mark Robertson from 98.7 the River
        EMS sings National Anthem
7:30        Survivor and Caregiver Walks
8:00        Kids Walk
Announcement of pageant winners
8:30        EMS Show Choir
9:00        Luminary Ceremony
9:30        Mr. Tommy Hall
10:00        Mr. Tommy Hall continued
10:30        Sassy Steps
11:00        Hillary and Josie
11:30        Birthday Celebration
12:00        Karaoke
12:30        Karaoke–Team Captain Celebration
1:00        Mr. Relay
1:30        Springfield Bing
2:00        Hula Contest
3:00        Line Dancing
5:00        Karate Demo
5:30        Morning Stretch
6:00        Breakfast
7:00        Closing Ceremonies

People who are touched by cancer, whether they’re its victims or they love one of them, share a strength in optimism and a love of the little things in life.

In addition to extensive volunteer work at his church, Richard Leach, 66, is in his sixth year of volunteering with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Effingham County. He works with survivor activities at the event and is a member of his church’s Relay team, and he has chaired and co-chaired many of its committees before.

But this will be his first year participating as a cancer survivor.

Until now, the retired librarian was involved in Relay because of his daughter Andrea. Andrea was two weeks from graduating high school when she underwent surgery for a blocked salivary gland. What they found was malignant melanoma. The doctors removed Andrea’s lymph nodes immediately, but they missed one above her ear.

“I don’t think one was even supposed to be there, because they never check above it,” he said.

Blinking thoughtfully into his memory, Leach explained that the melanoma had migrated to Andrea’s brain. While attending college and working at an Augusta library, Andrea endured two successful brain tumor operations in addition to chemotherapy and radiation. For her third tumor, Andrea entered an experimental treatment at Emory, which reduced, but could not eliminate it.

One morning in March 1990, 19-year-old Andrea went to work and that evening, she died.

“It defies the normal rule of life. Your children are supposed to outlive you,” Leach said. “I can remember sitting in the hospital and just yelling out ‘It’s not supposed to be like this.’”

Leach’s grandmother had cervical cancer, his father died of lung cancer and his brother survived prostate cancer. Last December, he noticed a mark to the left of his nose. Assuming it was a revived wart he’d had, he made an appointment with his dermatologist. While waiting for the appointment, a dime-sized mark sprouted on his right forearm. He immediately had them removed and learned that both were skin cancer, and he’d caught them early.

Leach radiates optimism. He does not fear cancer and he’s open about his daughter’s story and her contribution to cancer research.

“My philosophy is that God puts people on earth for the time he decides, and their purpose is fulfilled when they leave us. Her purpose was fulfilled in her 19 years, and I can’t argue with God,” he said.

Leach will join another survivor and a well-known presence at Effingham’s Relay for Life, 13-year-old, Daniel Trowell. Every year, Trowell leads the survivors’ walk on his vehicle of choice, whether his tricycle, electric motor cycle or golf cart.

His tiny gruff voice, big brown eyes and lively laugh can muddle the realities he’s endured. Trowell was born more than three months early and spent his first six months in the hospital on a ventilator. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a nervous system disorder that disrupts functions in learning, movement and thinking among others.

At age 4, Trowell was diagnosed with leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy and went into remission, but his kidneys failed from infection. His doctors gave him a 20 percent chance of living. He spent the next seven years of his life on dialysis.

“I asked why (the transplant operation) was so difficult, and they said because in most cases like him, most didn’t make it,” said Lisa Trowell, Daniel’s mom.

In 2008, he received his transplant. He is now able to eat without a feeding tube and swim in pools, things dialysis prevented him from doing before.

“It’s amazing how much the little things are just as important as the big things,” said Lisa.

About a month after his transplant, Daniel’s grandmother died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The two of them used to Relay together, and Daniel remembers how he used to stay with her.

“One time, I just took off and left everybody, like fuoom,” he said, mocking the speed with his hand.

Daniel is in fourth grade now, and his teachers come by three times a week. He loves math, Nintendo DS and wants to be a chef.

“I’m working on Taylor Swift right now,” said Daniel of his would-be girlfriend.

The Trowells participate in Life Link as well as Relay for Life, showing the good that organ donation can do.

Both Richard Leach and the Trowell family have found comfort in sharing their stories because it lets people understand cancer and deal with its tribulations.

“If a person is fortunate enough to have a strong faith, lean on your faith. Lean on your friends, because the assistance that your friends can give you will carry you through. And I think maintaining a positive attitude (during) treatment … will get people through when nothing else will,” said Leach.

“It’s love,” said Lisa Trowell. “When you love someone, you’re going to do you’re best any way. That just put me in the perspective to fight even harder for him. When I did that and when I had strong will power, I felt like maybe he would too.”

Said Daniel Trowell: “Just don’t give up. Never stop fighting.”

Relay for Life starts tonight at Effingham County High School at 7 p.m.