Relay For Life cancelled due to COVID-19

Dawn Long of Monticello participated in last year’s RFL, walking in the cancer survivor lap with her 90-year-old grandmother, also a cancer survivor. Pictured is her grandmother JoAnn Paulsen and Long’s daughter Whitney. In back is Janeal Paulsen, Long’s mom.

Long’s family and friends congratulated her on her final day of treatment when she was able to ring the victory bell. From left are Andrea Reckless, Diane McElmeel, Long, Whitney Long, Janeal Paulsen, Ethan Long, and Josh Long. (Photos submitted)
Long shares incredible journey as a breast cancer survivor
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     The Jones County Relay For Life was originally scheduled for early August. Due to COVID-19, the event unfortunately had to be cancelled.

     Amanda Hackney, co-organizer of the event, said the committee typically starts planning in April and May. With all of the state restrictions in place, they weren’t able to do much these last couple of months. With so many unknowns still hanging on and for the safety of the community, they chose to cancel the RFL for 2020.

     “We will be back next year bigger and better,” she said.

     However, the committee is still collecting donations on behalf of individuals, businesses, and Relay teams.

     “We are still hard at work to make a monetary donation to the American Cancer Society (ACS) from Jones County,” encouraged Hackney. “Cancer doesn’t stop, and neither do we. It’s important to relay. The resources ACS provides are essential, which means our fundraising is, too. Our donations help make all of this happen.”

     Donations can be mailed to Jones County Relay For Life, 231 S. Cedar St., Monticello, IA 52310. You can also donate directly to the event’s Facebook page “Relay For Life of Jones County.”

     “Even though we are not able to have this community event face-to-face, it is important to our community to continue the fight (against cancer) just in a different format this year,” said Hackney.

     This year’s speaker would have been Dawn Long of Monticello, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. Long’s daughter, Whitney, is a gymnast at Almost Famous, of which Hackney is co-owner, along with Melissa Ehrisman. “Seeing her each week and how she always had a smile on her face; she stayed positive before, during and after treatment,” recalled Hackney. “That says a lot about her. Her uplifting spirit in contagious; the world needs more Dawn in their life…”

     Long said she was honored to be asked to be the speaker of the RFL. With the event cancelled, she admitted it’s a bit of a letdown, especially after the last couple of successful RFL years. Long volunteered at the RFL in the past, and plans to pay it forward by donating this year.

     Last year, Long was blessed to be a part of the cancer survivor lap with her 90-year-old grandmother, who had been cancer-free for 28 years.

     “That inspired my journey,” she recalled.

     Long’s cancer journey began in November 2018 when she saw her doctor for her yearly checkup and exam.

     “I mentioned to my physician that I felt a small lump on my chest,” she said.

     In 2012, Long had a benign cyst in her opposite breast. So this time around, she assumed it was just another cyst.

     After her doctor recommended a mammogram, it turned out that the lump was abnormal. This led to an ultrasound to determine the size and location of the lump. Long then underwent a biopsy for the formal diagnosis of Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) with HER 2. It was found to be in Stage 1B at the time.

     “The waiting game was stressful,” expressed Long of not knowing her diagnosis early on.

     When she was told the tumor was malignant, she was in shock.

     “The last thing I expected to hear was that I had breast cancer. I can’t have cancer because I have all these people (her family) to take care of. I don’t have time to be sick; my kids need me.”

     Long said he thought she was a healthy person, never one to get cancer.

     “I was in denial and thought it was a mid up. I was a blubbering, emotional, confused mess!”

     She eventually made contact with a nurse navigator, which is an oncology nurse who guides patients/families through diagnosis and treatment. Long was given a handbook and admitted she didn’t understand a thing because the medical terms seemed so foreign. “I thought my head was going to explode.”

     She said she wanted to educate herself on everything when it came to breast cancer. That handbook was her go-to.

     Treatment was going to consist of removing the tumor, followed by 12 weeks of chemotherapy, then radiation, and hormone therapy drug every three weeks for a year due to the HER2 positive diagnosis.

     “Two weeks after being diagnosed, I had an intravenous port put in and a lumpectomy,” shared Long. “I was very nervous about starting chemo.”

     After the diagnosis, Long said it was extremely difficult having to tell her family and friends. She didn’t want anyone to worry about her.

     Long is also an in-home childcare provider. There was added stress telling those families in case they couldn’t arrange a backup provider.

     “My families were amazing at reassuring me to do what I needed to do to take care of myself,” Long said of her daycare “family.”

     After her first surgery, her lymph nodes were tested in the event the cancer had spread to the rest of her body. Thankfully, it had not.

     “It was a huge relief,” Long said.

     After seeing her first oncologist, Long wasn’t feeling comforted, so she got a second opinion.

     “Communication and lack of empathy was just not there,” she said of her first doctor.

     With her second doctor, Long said she finally felt like she had a voice and was being listened to.

     “The staff was amazing and always did their best to make me feel comfortable. I received calls, texts, and cards from people reaching out to support me during this time. I felt so blessed to live in such a supportive community.

     During this time, Long also heard of so many others who were in her shoes years ago, battling cancer. Hearing their stories, she said, inspired her and made her feel like she wasn’t alone in her fight now.

     “With all these stories of inspiring people who fought cancer, I decided I was going to stay positive and in a healthy state of mind. I would not let fear set in, as fear feeds off fear and stress can be very damaging to your body.”

     When going to every chemo treatment, Long made sure to wear something with a positive message on it and post a positive message to her Facebook page. She had people reach out with offers to drive her to her appointments and treatments.

     It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though. Long’s body experienced allergic reactions to her medications.

     “The side effects hit me hard,” she said.

     As with many cancer patients, she also readied herself for losing her hair. Despite being mentally prepared, when it started falling out it was rough for her.

     “I think it was because I wasn’t on terms,” she said.

     Long is no stranger to wearing hats, so that fashion accessory didn’t bother her at all. With the harsh winter in 2018-19, stocking caps became Long’s best friend.

     She also credits her children with helping more around the house while she was sick. They took funny SnapChat photos together, which helped bring about some laughter, the best medicine sometimes.

     Long said it was hard for her to sit still and allow her body to rest versus getting up and going all of the time. Her mother helped watch her daycare kids because Long didn’t want to take too much time off work. “It gave me purpose to get up and stay motivated to keep moving and push through one day at a time,” she said.

     At that time, her daycare families presented Long with a beautiful pink and black quilt made by Marlene Yauslin. The quilt showcased pictures of her daycare kids, too.

     When it came to radiation, Long said she was against it from the start. She contemplated having a double mastectomy, saying she “felt divinely guided to have the surgery.”

     After the double mastectomy it turned out that there were cancerous cells in the breast tissue, which was removed during surgery. Long knew she made the right choice.

     Thankfully, she didn’t not experience any side effects when it came to taking the hormone drug through her port.

     Lastly, Long underwent an oophorectomy. This would eliminate the chances of getting ovarian cancer if any cancer came back.

     Now, she sees her oncologist every four months for checkups.

     “Ringing that bell after completing all of my treatments symbolized a huge victory for me,” she recalled. “I feel like I have a whole new perspective on life. I feel so grateful, as my eyes are open to what really matters in life because we are not promised tomorrow, so I cherish my time with my loved ones to make sure they know how much I care.”

     Despite the fact that Long’s maternal grandmother is also a breast cancer survivor, Long’s genetic testing came back negative. This led to her doing some research into what causes cancer. Some of those factors include: stress, environmental pollution, and chemicals in certain foods and products. Long started reading labels and becoming more aware of what she was putting into and onto her body. She made the decision to clean up her diet and limit her sugar intake. She takes vitamins and uses essential oils.

     “I made more time for me, not in a selfish way, but in an empowering way,” she said, through yoga, mediation, and exercise.

     Long said she was happy to share her story for the RFL (and now in the Express) to encourage people to do self-checks and not to wait to get something checked out if it doesn’t feel right.

     “One of my favorite quotes I live by is: ‘If you don’t take time out for your health, you will be forced to make time for your illness.’”

     Long encourages people to be their own advocates of their own health.

     “You will not know how strong you are until strong is the only choice you have,” she said.

     This entire experience truly made Long believe in the power of prayer, with so many people reaching out and sending her their prayers.


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