By ALISHA H. WILSON

General Manager

At 22 years old most young adults are finishing up college, searching for that perfect job, starting a family ... planning a bright future for themselves.

At 22, Kevin Russell, now a DJ for KZ103, was being diagnosed with cancer.

“I remember the doctor telling me he thought I had cancer. I thought, ‘he doesn’t know for sure’,” Russell said.

Standing before a crowd of 25 people, Russell was the highlight of the county’s Relay for Life kick-off last week telling his story of survival.

In July 2004, just before his 23rd birthday, Russell recalled receiving an “early birthday present, a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease.

“When I heard those words, ‘You have cancer,’ it hit me like a ton of bricks. I cried at that moment. I was at ground zero,” he said.

But Russell was fortunate enough to be diagnosed with not only a disease that was treatable - it was curable.

“As I laid in that bed, after being diagnosed, I kept thinking, ‘Why me? Why me?’ But then I thought, ‘Why not me?’ I went from being depressed to realizing that his was a new beginning. I decided to turn this into something positive,” he said.

Under the care of a medical oncologist, Russell learned that his cancer was Stage 1 and was confined to three lymph nodes. He then underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy.

“I think there is a purpose for everything that happens,” Russell said, “ and I can honestly say I am thankful I had cancer. I know God allowed it to happen so I could help someone else.”

Since his treatment, Russell has spoken to many groups getting his message out:

“It’s not the disease that’s killing folks; it’s their attitude.

“People say there’s nothing you can do about it, but they’re wrong. You can pray,” he said.

The answer to cancer survival that Russell offered to the crowd was one that could not be “bought or sold. It’s priceless. It’s something that can save your life.

“It’s hope.

“Hope is available to anyone and can be found in family, in medicine, in the hearts of those who have had cancer themselves. For cancer to destroy the body, it must destroy hope. Hope of recovery. Hope of help. Hope of a future.”

As Russell encouraged the crowd, he showed them his magic box. It was small, easily held in one hand but inside was the cure for sickness and disease. As Karen McFerrin, a member of the audience, stepped up to see what was inside, a smile crossed her face as she saw a reflection of herself.

“You are the answer to restoring hope,” he said.

Relay Chairperson Aaron Loden took the podium following Russell’s comments and brought a stronger emotion to the crowd with his own personal story of a lady known by this county very well.

“We’re all here tonight for the same reason, and that’s because we’ve all had to deal with cancer in some way or another,” he said.

As Loden told the story of his late wife Susan, he recalled teasing her when they first were married because she was 12 years younger than him.

“I used to tell her that was so she could take care of me when I got older. But sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way you expect it to,” he said.

Susan fought cancer for 12-1/2 years before dying on Aug. 14, 2005.

“Cancer is no respecter of persons. Susie was healthy, always exercised,” Loden said.

But as he talked of her, he also talked of Relay and what it meant to them over the years.

“It’s an enlightening experience to see what goes on there that night. The survivors’ walk is always special to me - to see those who are fighting to beat cancer. I’d like for us to all leave here determined to get people involved in something we know is a good thing,” he encouraged his audience.

This year’s Relay goal is $41,000 and 21 teams. Relay will be held Friday, April 27, from 6 p.m. until midnight at the ICC Crane Pavilion. In case of rain, it will be moved to Saturday, April 28.

The next Relay meeting will be March 13. Committee meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the team captains’ meeting starting at 6 p.m.

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