The last decade has not been especially good to Sandy Lownes.
From 2001 to 2010, Lownes was diagnosed with cancer six different times.
In 2001, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer; in 2002, with colon cancer; in 2003, with liver cancer; in 2004, with breast cancer (for the first time); in 2006 with breast cancer (again); and in 2007, she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
A single cancer diagnosis is enough to devastate most people - six is unthinkable.
Lownes said it was more than just a personal struggle; her ordeal affected her husband, Murray, and her sons, Chris and Joseph, both of whom serve in the military.
"It affected not only me, but my entire family," Lownes said. "My emotions were shared with them. It upset us, it made us mad. As we were going through it, we had to trust that my doctors would do what they had to do to keep me alive. It was very difficult, to say the least."
In addition to Lownes's individual struggle, she had to cope with the cancer-related deaths of two family members.
"I've had two sisters pass from breast cancer in 2006 and 2011," she said. "We've had a lot of cancer in my family. It's been a family struggle, not just a personal one."
During her nine-year ordeal, Lownes received support not only from her family, but from her involvement with Relay For Life.
Lownes is a past event co-chair for the Relay For Life of Jersey Shore, and she serves on the event committee as an advocacy chair.
"I've been involved with Relay since 2006 in both the Jersey Shore and Reading areas," Lownes said. "As co-chair I helped with planning the event and overseeing the 24-hour event. What I do now as advocacy chair is get teams to sign up for ACS CAN, which is an advocacy group that travels to Harrisburg to talk to our state representatives and senators. We want to convince them not to lower the amount of money that is given to the American Cancer Society for different cancers."
According to Lownes, the advocacy group has been successful in its attempts.
"We made a trip to Harrisburg recently and talked to representatives about getting money to fund screenings for colon cancers. It was a success."
Lownes said her involvement with Relay For Life has been very rewarding.
"If I can help just one person get through his or her treatments, it's a joy," she said. "I get to talk to a lot of cancer patients and share my story with them. They like to hear stories. They like to hear success stories, in particular. It gives them hope."
Lownes said Relay For Life also has done a great deal for her on a personal level.
"I got to know a lot of people who work for Relay," Lownes said.
"The prayers they've given me have been a major help and support. It's such a pleasure to meet all the people that have had cancer at the Relays and trade stories with them," she continued. "It's wonderful to see them year after year and see that they're surviving. Everyone knows someone who's been affected by cancer. It's a real community and you can really feel that in the Relay For Life organization and at the events."
After years of chemotherapy, radiation and numerous surgeries, Lownes has been in remission since October 2010.
"I haven't received any treatment since then," Lownes said. "When I learned I was in remission, I was happy. I had problems in my knees the whole time I was going through treatment. When I learned I was in remission, I asked my doctors if I could have my knees replaced and I recently did, so I'm feeling good all around now."
Lownes's son, Joseph, who is stationed in Italy, is coming home this week, which means the Lownes family will have another reason to celebrate. "He's coming back on a three-week leave," Lownes said. "We're very excited for his return."
The Relay For Life of Jersey Shore will be held from 2 p.m. May 11 to 2 p.m. May 12 at the Jersey Shore Area High School track.
"We have an opening ceremony and a dinner which celebrates cancer survivors and their caregivers. Relay For Life continues to grow every year so more people can survive cancer. I think it makes such a big difference."
Lownes ended by stressing her gratitude for Relay For Life and the difference it has made in her own life. "I would like to thank everybody who supported me through my cancers and for all the prayers that were offered for me during that time. I'd also like to thank the American Cancer Society for their support," she said. "Sometimes you can't do this without prayers and family and different kinds of support."