NEW PORT RICHEY — Forty-four years ago in a hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., a baby was born with cancerous tumors wrapped around her kidneys and other organs. At five days old, doctors operated on the baby and cut out the growths and removed one kidney, her appendix and part of her spleen and intestines. The baby then endured nine months of chemotherapy. Her grandparents left their home in Michigan to live with the baby's parents and they all took turns caring for her.
Somehow the girl, Jamie Mick, grew up healthy. She still has a scar from her breastbone to her lower stomach and her spine is curved, but she can ski and swim and do what she wants. Mick, a commercial real estate broker, and her husband live in New Port Richey. They never had children, as Mick was concerned about passing on cancer or birth defects.
Mick's battle with cancer didn't end with her. It has surrounded her since birth. She lost her grandfather to lung cancer and her father is a 15 year survivor of prostate cancer. Her husband's father died of melanoma cancer. Her brother died at age 47 after battling colon cancer.
"I want to slay this beast," she said fiercely, of fighting cancer.
Mick is one of thousands of people in Pasco County who volunteer each year with Relay for Life, an international event sponsored by the American Cancer Society that raises millions of dollars for cancer research. Communities rally together to create their own Relay for Life events, which are based around the same foundation: Teams walk around a track for 24 hours straight to raise money to battle cancer.
Survivors take the first lap around the track and, when the sun goes down, there is a Ceremony of Hope with candles lit and stories told of lost loved ones or personal fights with cancer. Teams bring tents and camp out.
"It's so much fun," said Stephanie Watts, with the American Cancer Society's Suncoast office.
"Every Relay is different," she said. Some are a bit raucous. Some are more quiet. Each event picks its own theme and some have prizes for the best campsite and such. Survivors bond.
"We are all walking for the same cause," Watts said. "It's powerful and so beautiful."
The Relay for Life events are in the spring, but teams are gathering now to hold fundraisers and organize. Some event volunteers meet once a month all year long, preparing for their Relay.
"I have not yet met a person who has not been touched by cancer," Watts said.
Last year, Mick's New Port Richey Relay for Life event raised more than $150,000 and she hopes they break that record this year at their event on April 24 at Gulf High School.
"This is very, very important to me," she said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.