Elaine Garner says cancer has changed her life, for the better.
The 61-year-old seamstress says she lives differently now.
â€œI enjoy life a whole lot more. I just try to seize the moment.â€
But the retired teaching assistant remembers when her outlook wasnâ€™t quite so sunny.
Elaine was diagnosed with multiple myaloma, a type of bone marrow cancer, in 1998.
â€œIt was like hitting a brick wall,â€ she says. â€œI didnâ€™t even know I was sick.â€
Doctors educated Elaine and her husband, Max, about the disease and possible treatments. She talks about her physicians and caregivers with admiration.
â€œI had constant contact with the doctors and nurses,â€ she says. â€œThey had a chaplain and counselors. I could call anyone at anytime.â€
Elaine opted for what was a new treatment at the time, harvesting stem cells from your own blood. The new treatment was part of a research program.
Procedures were performed at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte. Elaine had sessions for harvesting stem cells which included being hooked up to a machine for a couple of hours at a time.
High doses of chemotherapy and the stem cell infusion required hospitalization.
â€œI had a lot of people ask me why I would go through that treatment, and I said â€˜Why not? I still have a lot of living to do.â€™â€
She will celebrate her five-year anniversary of the procedure Sunday â€” five years of being cancer free.
Elaine did suffer one side effect after treatment. She and several other patients developed shingles. As a result, Elaine has nerve damage to her right hand. Doctors said surgery was an option but could result in loss of use in her hand, something she couldnâ€™t imagine. So she chose pain management instead.
After trying various pain relief methods, Elaine has found one that works, a patch. She is able to spend three days a week sewing at Carolina Drapery, where she has worked for three years. In her spare time she visits with her three children and takes trips with her husband.
Elaine says sheâ€™s excited about the Relay for Life event and honored to be one of this yearâ€™s honorary chairs. She looks forward to the celebration each year and says the Survivorsâ€™ Lap and luminaries are especially emotional for her.
â€œIt is moving to see the strength of the people who fight cancer. They just seem to have this inner fight â€¦ the desire to keep on going.â€
Elaine says her family and friends kept her going through her illness. She was on several prayer lists and was visited by many members of her church, First United Methodist.
Support was key for her survival, she says, and she hopes to offer that same support to others.
â€œI feel like I have been spared for a reason,â€ Elaine says. â€œI just hope I can live up to that reason and help someone else.â€by Diane Turbyfill