Cancer survivor knows struggle first-hand

When Phyllis Hancock was told she had cancer, she thought her life was over. Little did she know that it had only just begun.

In the summer of 2001, Hancock was shopping for a wedding dress with her 25-year-old daughter, Rachael Clyde. Symptoms similar to menopause, including cramping and eratic periods, began about four months previously and had persisted. But it wasn’t until she felt a stone-hard mass the size of her fist on the right side of her waist area in August that she began to worry.

The first thought that came to mind was that she might have cancer. After all, cancer ran deep in her family’s bloodline. Her father, Phillip Schnorr, died in 1989 at the age of 55 from prostate cancer. Three of his four brothers died of cancer as well. Her twin brother, Phil Schnorr, died only five years ago at the age of 50 from a tumor on the bladder. Other female family members on her father’s side had died of breast cancer, too.

Dr. Larry Kieft, who had unsuccessfully treated her brother’s cancer due to its late-stage discovery, immediately ordered a series of tests for Hancock. They revealed fluid on the lungs and a defective right kidney. They also revealed how lucky she was: Her ovarian cancer was in its first stage. A mass had formed on one ovary and had not spread to other organs. Although she knew her chances of surviving this cancer were good, she was afraid something might go wrong — forcing her to face her own death.

?You believe you have this immortality,? Hancock said, as her voice quivered slightly and tears welled in her eyes. ?You’re in shock when they tell you that you have (cancer). You’re also in denial.?

A complete hysterectomy and removal of the defective kidney were performed immediately, followed by two months of chemotherapy. But she was determined to move forward in her life and celebrate in her daughter’s wedding — even without a head of hair.

?You worry about being bald,? she added, as she relayed a story about a visit to a flower shop. Not a fan of wigs, she was wearing a hat when she visited the shop. Through casual conversation, the shop owner learned about Hancock’s fight against cancer and bestowed upon her a bouquet of flowers with heartfelt wishes of recovery.

?People are very compassionate,? Hancock said. ?It was so nice to hear people say, ?I care.’ ?

The compassion and love she received from family, friends and strangers were astounding. As trust manager and senior vice president at Boulder’s Community First, she had dealt with the death of clients for years as she handled their estates. It was at this point she realized how much her clients and their families cared about her.

Hancock is entering her third year of living a cancer-free life. Her exercise of choice these days is walking. Within one week of surgery, she was walking one mile a day. On the first weekend in June, Hancock and her husband, Don Clyde, will participate in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Potts Field.

Nearly 40 teams with 10 volunteers each will alternately walk around the track from 6 p.m. on June 6 to 10 a.m. on June 7. Wearing sunshine yellow T-shirts, cancer survivors will be the first leg of the team. Team members can trade off at any time and walk with each other, if they chose. Each team is asked to raise at least $1,000 each in contributions, which will go toward cancer research.

Last year, the Boulder County division raised $114,385 while the Rocky Mountain division, including Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and North Dakota, raised $4.93 million. Fifty percent of all monies raised goes toward research, 40 percent is tagged for local programs and services such as educational programs, and 10 percent will pay for overhead costs such as staff wages and relay expenses.

Luminaria — small paper bags with a lit candle inside — will line the inside of the track and guide the volunteers through the night. Each luminaria will be made in memory of an area person who has been struck with cancer. A friend purchased a luminaria last year in honor of Hancock, even though she did not walk the race. This year, she will wear the yellow shirt as she leads her team during its 16-hour journey.

?When you are (at the event), you’re looking for hope,? she said. ?You see (that) there are survivors.?

Although Hancock has always held an appreciation for life, her experience of fighting cancer has given her an even deeper appreciation of how valuable life truly is. She cherishes her relationships to a greater degree and finds profound richness in the everyday simplicities of life.

?Everyday is a blessing,? she said.