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Cancer survivor shares her story and the importance of being mindful of the disease

by Danielle ShenkFriday, February 5th 2021

KEARNEY, Neb. — Almost 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer sometime throughout their life according to the National Cancer Institute but just like other diseases, some cancers can be prevented.

There are over 100 types of cancers and as we know, it’s easier to make efforts towards prevention rather than efforts towards a battle with a disease that has no known cure.

Kearney YMCA Healthy Living Coordinator Anne Johnson recommended some basic tips like eating a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, while staying away from processed foods, exercising frequently and switching up the way you exercise, and using sun screen or layers when out in the sun, but more important for prevention are the screenings and knowing your family history.

She said having conversations about your genetics with your doctor could help save your life if something were to come up in your routine screenings.

Experts say early detection, treatment, and fewer people smoker are all reasons that the cancer deaths continue to decline.

The American Cancer Society’s most recent data shows a 2.4% drop from 2017 to 2018.

After watching her mother battle cancer, Johnson holds this topic close to her heart and wanted to take action in helping others by becoming a Live Strong instructor.

“it was kind of my way of helping my mother in a way. So it’s very heartfelt for me. As I’ve been teaching these classes, it has meant just that much more. Being able to just go out and help people through this challenge. I have met some wonderful people from this, it’s just been amazing,” said Healthy Living Coordinator Anne Johnson.

One of those people she met was cancer survivor Arla Houck.

They developed a bond that only continues to grow as they raise awareness about the disease.

“Cancer used to be thought of as kind of a death sentence, a friend of mine told me that just recently, In the past that’s kind of what it was, you would hear those words and you were like that’s it, throw up your hands and just kind of start making plans for the end, but that’s not how it is anymore,” said Johnson.

Cancer Survivor Arla Houck added, “my cancer was a life sentence two years prior before me, my type of cancer. My drug that helped save me had only been on the market two years through the American cancer society research.”

Prevention, prevention, prevention, early detection.. all of those things are so vital. Getting a colonoscopy, no one wants to do that but, would you rather have an hour of inconvenience, maybe a night of icky-ness, or a year and a half of treatment?

Cancer runs in Arla’s family and says her grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 46.

“Because of my grandma’s diagnosis, I then at 40, started mammograms every year..preventing, being very mindful of that history and at 46 they found a lump on a routine mammogram. From there they took a biopsy of that, and from there we started the treatment,” said Arla.

She said she went through about a year and a half of not so many good days but has since made it through to see her 11 grandkids grow up.

“My little babies walk the track with me at Relay (for Life) and on Wednesdays, I watch my grandson after preschool and we walk every Wednesday and at the end of the little video we do he says, “no more cancer grandma.” In my heart that’s why I do it. I never want to have to hear one of my grandbabies say, “grandma, I have cancer.””

She became involved in Relay for Life while going through treatment and eventually the Livestrong program.

“There’s not really a support group any more for cancer survivors and I don’t think she knew anybody in the class and so she was a little hesitant,” said Johnson.

But Johnson says she saw Arla quickly become friends with Steve Huffman as he showed her how to become more comfortable with weights and working out.

Arla made several additional friends along the way and was thankful to have others she could relate to.

“Sometimes we need a hug, sometimes we don’t want to burden others and say I can’t life my left arm but sometimes you want to life that left arm and I proudly can lift my left arm and I can crossover with my left arm,” said Arla.

She wanted other survivors to know you don’t have to go through this on your own and you shouldn’t.

“Learning about how to put on support socks. Have you ever done that? Nobody likes to do that. We have tricks, because why? We’ve been there, done that. Don’t do it alone,” said Houck, “there’s always ways to be stronger, to fight harder, and between Relay (For Life) and Livestrong, they have given me hope, they’ve made the impossible, possible

The Kearney YMCA’s Livestrong program begins next Tuesday on February 9th.