SHERIDAN — Relay for Life provides an opportunity for community members to honor, mourn and celebrate loved ones who battled cancer. For some participants, though, the battle continues beyond the weekend’s events.
Doctors diagnosed Mandy Cantrell with Stage 2 breast cancer in February, right as she and First Interstate Bank Relay for Life co-captain Cynthia Whiteman were starting plans for fundraising.
Out of the 11 years Whiteman’s been on the team, six or seven of those were walking and fundraising alongside Cantrell, both as a teammate and co-captain. The news came at a difficult time.
“We didn’t know what (Cantrell’s diagnosis) was going to mean for the team,” Whiteman said. “She wasn’t able to be as active during the process of fundraising because of surgeries and chemotherapy.”
That didn’t stop Cantrell from giving as much of herself back to the team as possible.
Cantrell’s family lives in Idaho, so her coworkers have become her Sheridan family. It showed through the immense support from friends during the walk, with 39 luminarias lighting the walking path during the Relay for Life event earlier this month. Soon after her diagnosis, a friend hosted a fundraiser for Cantrell’s medical bills. It was well attended.
“It’s amazing to see how many people showed up and on such short notice,” Whiteman said.
Cantrell found a lump on her breast by coincidence when her cat walked across her chest one day. She quickly realized she needed a lumpectomy and will continue with a double mastectomy after chemotherapy treatment.
As a woman barely old enough to have insurance cover a mammogram, Cantrell emphasized the need for preventative measures.
Cantrell has no history of cancer on either side of her family, so she was advised to wait until she was older to complete a mammogram. Luckily, she found the lump early and holds onto the 88 percent chance of life estimated from her doctors.
As an avid and consistent participant in her employer’s Relay for Life team, Cantrell found it weird to transition from a participant relaying for close friends and family who had died or suffered from the disease to participating as a survivor. She was served at the survivor’s dinner and walked the initial lap with fellow survivors to start the evening’s event.
“Even though it’s been since February, three or four months since I’ve been diagnosed, it doesn’t feel like I should be on that end of it still,” Cantrell said. “I still feel like I should be the one cheering people on.”
But the community stepped up and honored her in the way that she honored others.
“She’s always there from the beginning to the end,” Whiteman said. “She did it this year even through chemo. She had to rest a few times but stayed the entire time.”
Cantrell will carry on through her bout with cancer but not without a fight like the one she shows each year at the Relay for Life, surrounded by friends and “family” who will walk with and for her, too.