Relay for Life Survivor’s story part of Sunday eventLocal woman faced down advanced melanoma.
By: Candy DenOuden, The Daily Republic
It was just a mole, or a bruise. That’s what Sue Walter thought when she found a sore spot on her scalp in the winter of 1992. But after weeks of continued irritation, which included a repeated cycle of scabbing and bleeding, Walter began to wonder.
“It just wouldn’t go away,” she said. On a routine appointment with her doctor, Walter, 61, said she decided bring it up in an “oh, hey, by the way” sort of manner. Her doctor scheduled a biopsy immediately. In May of that year, she was diagnosed with a Clark’s Level IV melanoma — an aggressive form of skin cancer, which ends at Level V.
“So I was right there,” Walter said. For most people, a Level IV melanoma would have been fatal, because of how quickly it spreads.
“I was very lucky it was on my scalp, because it couldn’t penetrate the bone,” Walter said.
Now cancer free, she’s the honorary survivor chairwoman for the Relay for Life of Davison County, which runs from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Registration for cancer survivors who want to take the first “survivors” lap starts at 11:15 a.m. Walter said cancer survivors are the only ones who need to register to walk laps, so they can receive a complimentary T-shirt. The event honors victims and survivors, and raises money and awareness to fight cancer.
It wasn’t an easy road to recovery for Walter. After having the spot removed by a plastic surgeon in Sioux Falls, Walter, who was living in Howard at the time and now resides in Mitchell, said the only form of treatment for her cancer was an experimental program that used interferon injections, which she said were meant to help boost the immune system to fight off the cancer.
She received those injections five days a week for the first month, then had to give shots to herself three times a week for a year. Unlike chemotherapy or radiation, Walter said she didn’t have to deal with the hair loss or illness that many cancer patients endure. Extreme fatigue, however, was her constant companion.
“It just wiped me out,” she said. Walter, a mother of four, said she would wake up to get her children off to school, sleep until they got home, get up to make supper, then go back to bed. The next day, she’d do it all over again. Gradually, though, she was able to take walks to build up her stamina and maintain her energy levels.
“By September, I was pretty well back to my normal self,” she said. It was a difficult time for her family, with one daughter in high school and a son and a daughter in junior high. But she said they “took care of themselves” and helped however they could. “They were great,” she said. Walter’s recovery story took a sad turn in 2006 when her husband, Ron, died from colon cancer. “They didn’t find it until it was pre-register, call 996-0951.
Throughout the afternoon, there will be entertainment, as well as an “elegant dessert” silent auction, which will be one of the day’s biggest fundraisers, Walter said.
Walter will give a survivor message at 2 p.m. The luminaria ceremony will follow at 2:15, where people can purchase luminarias, or candles, in honor of cancer survivors or in memory of those who have died from cancer. Those sales are the day’s other main source of income, Walter said.
Event chairwoman Kimberly Haibeck said money raised from the event goes to the American Cancer Society to be used for research, education, advocacy and services. Locally, Haibeck said the American Cancer Society collaborates with Avera Queen of Peace to provide Reach to Recovery; Look Good, Feel Better; and I Can Cope classes.
While Walter said there is no specific fundraising goal for the day, she hopes families come to enjoy the event and raise money in the process.
“We just try to make as much as we can, because I always think if it wasn’t for research, where would I be?” she said. too late,” she said.
Other members in her family have succumbed to the disease, including her mother and grandmother.
It makes sense, then, that Walter has long been involved with Relay for Life events both in Howard and in Mitchell.
In addition to being the honorary survivor chairwoman this year, Walter is the assistant chairwoman, following a two-year stint as the chairwoman. She said the day’s events kick off at noon. Sunday with the survivors lap, which Walter and others will make. The second lap is called the “caregiver” lap, which Walter said is for survivors, friends and family members who have toughed it out together.
“My kids walk with me,” she said, adding that her daughter from Minnesota, Kari; daughter from Mitchell, Renee; and son from Sioux Falls, Ryan, all plan to attend. Only her oldest daughter, Amy, who lives in Florida, won’t make it.
At 12:30 p.m., there will be a “Frigid” outdoor 1.5-mile walk/5K run, which Walter said is $15 for those who pre-registered, or $20 to register the day of the event. To