Cancer survivor kicks off inaugural PR-B Relay for Life - Event raises more than $4,000
Pine River-Backus students and cancer survivor Stacy Erholtz kicked off the inaugural student-led Relay for Life on Friday, Dec. 7, raising $4,242 for the American Cancer Society.
Erholtz, of Pequot Lakes, was selected to share her amazing survival story. She is the only person to have complete remission from multiple myeloma, a deadly, incurable blood cancer, after a remarkably successful experimental treatment.
Erholtz first started to show symptoms of her cancer in 2003, when her children were 10, 8 and 7. She said she wrote off the exhaustion and other symptoms as resulting from work, raising three active children and age. She quit her job and became a full-time mother to relieve the strain.
In May 2004, she had symptoms that being 40 could not explain, and doctors revealed to her a cancer diagnosis and all that comes with it.
Erholtz underwent the best treatments available at the time, which consisted mainly of autologous stem cell transplants where stem cells were harvested from her bone marrow before she was given a near fatal dose of radiation to destroy the cancer. Her harvested cells were then transplanted back into her to regrow.
Recovery took three months, but even with treatment, many victims of this cancer have a three- to five-year life expectancy, which changed Erholtz's life immediately.
"Cancer not only affects a person physically but also mentally, emotionally, and I personally never fell into a time of sadness and depression. But I did worry about my children and how cancer would affect them and how truly I would miss if I only had three to five years to spend with them," Erholtz told students.
The cancer simplified her life goals. One of her main goals was simply to see her oldest daughter graduate. She staved off a return for years using daily chemotherapy treatments in a mild oral form. By 2012, she had beaten the three- to five-year life expectancy, but her cancer had returned. She had yet another autologous stem cell transplant, but her remission only lasted months this time, and she was left with no other tried-and-true options.
"Within 24 hours I went from an extreme low to an exhilarating high as I discovered I qualified for the measles treatment and my appointment was set for June 5 of 2013," Erholtz said.
The measles treatment involved a dose of 100 billion measles cells, enough to vaccinate 10 million people administered over 30 minutes.
The 30-minute treatment was not pleasant. Erholtz said she suffered incredible pain, a serious coughing fit and a massive fever, but by the next morning everything had changed dramatically. In 48 hours a tumor (a plasmacytoma) on her forehead (named Evan by her children) had completely vanished, as did many of her cancer symptoms.
"The next morning I awoke and truthfully I can say I never felt better," Erholtz said.
Follow-up examinations determined that the treatment had worked and she had achieved a complete remission. She survived not only to accomplish her goal of seeing her oldest daughter graduate from high school, she also saw her two other children graduate from high school, two of her children graduate from college and two of her children marry.
Her survival was partially thanks to research funded by the American Cancer Society. For that reason, Erholtz congratulated and encouraged the student body for organizing a Relay for Life event.
"I'm still the only person on the planet with blood cancer to have had a complete response," Erholtz said. "This makes me sad. I would super like a group of people I can fully relate to and share an experience with. My hope is some day soon I will have some friends. That's where all of you come in. Your time and dedication leading up to today's event has and will raise money for the American Cancer Society, an institution dedicated to supporting cancer patients and research.
"For many of you today, this may be a one-time event, but it doesn't have to be. There are many things you can do. Maybe somebody present here today is the research person who is going to solve the mystery of cancer. Many of you will go on to healthcare-related jobs, but you can start today by being a kind, loving and supportive presence in your community," she said.
Erholtz encouraged those present to continue to fight against cancer and support those who need it not only through donations of money, but of time possibly by doing chores for afflicted families, delivering meals, being loyal friends or giving some normalcy to families fighting disease.
She reminded everyone that there is hope for a cure on the horizon and encouraged everyone to keep doing what they can to fight.
"All right Tigers, let's go kick some cancer!" Erholtz said in closing.
The event featured a wall of remembrance and fundraising opportunities, including donation scratch-off tickets and carnival games, including one where students had the opportunity to pie one of several teachers in the face. The event also featured the classic walking relay, this year inside the halls of the school, and a wall of purple plaques to memorialize people who have fought cancer.