A crowd of about 30 people paraded around the track at Hoon Field in Chinook Friday night, attired in purple T-shirts that read “Survivor. ”
Friends and relatives cheered them as music like “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor blared from the public address system.
Some have been cancer survivors for a decade or more. Others were attending their first Relay for Life, which is sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
While survivors were hugging with each other and posing for pictures, John Hebbelman talked about his harrowing battle against cancer in the last 18 months.
On Feb, 7, 2011, his doctor told the lifelong Chinook resident he thought he had throat cancer, but he had to order further tests to be sure.
On Feb. 24, Hebbelman started treatments in Mayo Clinic’s Phoenix hospital, close to where he winters.
“My first thought was ‘Why me? ’” he said. “I never smoked, and I rarely drink, ” he said.
His doctor explained that everyone has the potential to get cancer. something triggers it. In many cases, his doctor said, smoking triggers cancer, sometimes something unknown triggers it.
The next few months were what Hebbelman called “a roller coaster. ”
He would get good news, then bad news.
Chemotherapy and radiation were rough, but he endured because he saw other patients undergoing worse reactions to the treatment.
People would turn violently ill, he said. His reaction was less severe.
He got pneumonia, however, and his condition worsened.
The tumor disappeared, but on a routine check, doctors found another tumor was growing on the same spot. More treatments made the tumor go away, but shortly thereafter, it returned.
Finally, it looks like the tumor is gone, but Hebbelman has to return frequently for tests.
Sleeping is hard. He had to get up several times a night to drink water. He carries a bottle of water with him at all times.
He has a hard time swallowing food, but his doctor predicts that problem will go away with time.
He lost 36 pounds, largely because he was being fed with a stomach tube during his pneumonia, he said,
Family who stayed by him when he was in Phoenix and friends who stayed in touch with him by phone kept him doing during the tough times.
“But I am going on with my life, ” Hebbelman said. He is an airplane pilot and a crop duster, and he will keep that up, he said.
The Relay for Life event was a meaningful experience for him, he said. “I am not alone. ”
He walked around the track with other survivors — young and older — who had been through the same experience.