Local insurance agent Billye Roland will be participating in Relay for Life of Lincolnton this year in way she never has before — in a purple shirt and wig, evidence of her current cancer battle.
While both her parents suffered from lung cancer, taking her father’s life in a period of seven weeks, the Lincolnton native and Wolves alumna never thought breast cancer would strike her, particularly since none of her relatives had ever suffered from the particular type of illness.
However, the form currently attacking her body is a more aggressive strain, one medical officials called “HER2-positive.”
According to mayoclinic.org, a gene mutation causes the cancer cells to produce a high volume of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, for which the strain is named.
One in every five breast cancer cases is HER2-positive, the site said, but additional cancer types can also test positive for the extra growth factor.
Diagnosed in March, Roland said she went to the doctor after locating a large lump in one her breasts.
Her last routine mammogram had been less than a year earlier.
While some women cry, grow angry or simply enter a state of shock when learning they have cancer, Roland said she was ready to take action and commence the road to recovery.
“I said, ‘Ok, so what do we do from here?’” she said.
Her husband, Brent, who works for her at State Farm in Lincolnton, shared her positive attitude.
“This is a bump in the road,” he said, “and we’re going to get over the bump and continue driving down the road. And your attitude is what lets you deal with the bumps. Otherwise, it’s a wall instead of a bump, if you don’t have the right attitude.”
Doctors gave Roland a 75 percent chance of beating the illness following a partial mastectomy, extensive chemotherapy treatment and 33 rounds of radiation.
“I’ll take those odds,” Roland said, without batting an eye or showing signs of fear.
For a year, she’s scheduled to undergo chemo. Not only will she endure six “big” rounds of the medicine every three weeks, with each session lasting four to five hours, she said, but also smaller chemo rounds once a week.
“They pump you full of all kinds of stuff,” she said.
Roland’s energy is depleted for three days following the longer chemo rounds, and after regaining her strength for a brief two-day period, it’s treatment time again.
No week is an “off-week” for chemo, but instead of being highly challenged by the pain, nausea and traumatic side effects of the powerful medicine — hair loss, extreme fatigue and increased susceptibility to additional sickness — the 53-year-old has been more concerned with overwhelming her husband, two grown daughters and other family members with her cancer fight.
“It does create a hardship on my family, and that bothers me…not being able to do everything,” she said.
Roland also dislikes how the medicine has lowered her immune system, attracting colds that take an extended time period for her to recover from, she said.
Roland receives chemo treatment through a port doctors put in her chest. Oftentimes, she sleeps while hooked up to the cancer-fighting machines, typically alone, in a room at Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory.
On Thursday, she completed her second round of the more extensive treatment sessions.
Her husband, someone she considered her greatest supporter and helper during this sick season of life, has tried to make arrangements to attend each appointment with her.
He even went with Roland to her local hairdresser two weeks after she started chemo.
Her hair had begun to fall out, and she knew she needed to carry out the same difficult task that other cancer patients across the world have had to do, and shave her head.
Again, the moment did little to break her confidence that the illness would one day be behind her.
“I was ready,” Roland said. “I knew it was coming.”
A friend later took her to a well-known wig supplier in China Grove, where she picked out some hair pieces, night caps and turbans.
From the beginning, her hope for recovery has been linked to her faith in God, strongly believing He has a purpose for her sickness.
“God uses things and doesn’t cause people to have cancer,” Roland said, “but this is the thing he uses to make really good things happen. Good can come out of everything. I just don’t know how people go through things and don’t believe in God. I just know He’s going to take care of me and my family.”
She also thanked her family and co-workers, particularly Ashley West and Lindsey Hendrix, for their support.
In addition to her cancer battle, Roland is tied to Relay for Life in a more unique way since her mother, Betty Jackson, helped start the event in Lincolnton two decades ago.
At the time, Jackson served as President of the Lincoln County Chapter of the American Cancer Society.
Roland remembers vividly being pregnant with one of her daughters and her mother sharing exciting news of the event.
“She said, ‘It’s the neatest thing. We’re going to spend the night and camp out,’” Roland said.
While she’s still in the midst of her cancer storm, Roland plans to complete the annual survivor lap Friday evening with other Lincolnton residents who have either stood in her shoes but are now in remission, or like her, are still looking forward to the day they see a clear body scan.
The primary purpose of the event is to raise money and awareness for a disease that will strike 1,665,540 people and contribute to 585,720 deaths this year in the United States, according to cancer.org, the official site of the American Cancer Society.
But Relay for Life is also meant to symbolize the entire cancer-fighting process, from the tragedy of diagnosis — represented by the event’s sunset start — and for some, the joy of healing — represented by the event’s end at sunrise the following day.
During the fight, patients experience physical, mental and emotional weakness, symbolized by each team’s long overnight trek, producing weariness and exhaustion, and pointing to the event’s overarching theme that cancer never sleeps.
Relay for Life of Lincolnton will start 6 p.m. today and last through 8 a.m. Saturday in downtown Lincolnton.
Typically hosted at Lincolnton High School, the event was chosen by Relay officials this year to take place in the heart of the city for the 20th anniversary celebration.
According to relayforlife.org, at least 49 teams have registered so far and more than $30,000 raised through fundraising efforts and donations over the last year.
For more information on Relay for Life of Lincolnton, visit relayforlife.org and enter keyword “Lincolnton” in the search bar. Details related to parking, camping and other activities are listed on the site.