While most children were learning how to ride a bike or read, Josh Isaacson was undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
When he was six years old, Isaacson’s life was turned upside down. While on vacation with his family, his mother noticed that his eye had started to protrude and took him to the hospital. On June 9, 1998, Isaacson was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of muscle cancer. The cancer was located closely behind his right eye and nose, which made surgery not an option. Doctors told his family he had a 20-40 percent chance of surviving.
Isaacson underwent six weeks of radiation and 10 months of chemotherapy. He remembers going to the hospital every week and having to stay there long weekends for chemotherapy treatments. There were also constant doctors visits.
“Doctors thought the damage from radiation would allow me to be a C student at best,” Isaacson said. “It’s only by God’s grace I’ve had a 4.0 GPA through high school and college.”
Thirteen years later, Isaacson is cancer free. On Friday, April 13, he was able to celebrate his victory by participating in Relay for Life, an all-night event that seeks to raise awareness and money for cancer research. Isaacson was one of 387 people who took turns walking around Liberty’s outdoor track for 12 hours, from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.
This is the second year Isaacson has walked in the relay, and he said that one of the primary reasons he does it is to promote cancer research.
“Without cancer research, I wouldn’t have made it this far,” Isaacson said. “It’s pretty amazing what God can do through doctors and nurses and the treatments they have. I’m so thankful for what the doctors and nurses do, and I want to support them through the Relay for Life.”
With the help of family, friends and professors, Isaacson has raised over $470, almost double his initial goal of $250.
The Liberty Relay for Life was able to raise more than $13,000 for the American Cancer Society. Throughout the night, students gathered around the track, some selling snacks and baked goods to raise additional money for the cause. Many played games and set up tents to prepare for the long night ahead.
According to Event Chair junior Perry Bobbitt, the overnight event gives people an idea of the fight those who are affected by cancer go through every day.
“Cancer never sleeps, and we’re walking all night because someone who’s battling cancer doesn’t get to stop fighting at 5 a.m.,” Bobbitt said.
Some students, such as freshman Zac Lamonte, came to the relay to remember loved ones affected by the disease. Lamonte decided to walk for his father, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer the summer before he left for Liberty.
“I had an idea of a bag and a bunch of clothes I would take to go home if I got the call that my dad was about to die from cancer. It was really difficult,” Lamonte said.
For three months, it was unknown what type of treatment Lamonte’s father would undergo. In September 2011, he eventually chose not to do any surgery or radiation, but instead to change the way he ate, moving to a primarily vegan diet.
“I was really concerned for him and was really skeptical about it,” Lamonte said. “It was really difficult, but as the semester went on he started saying he was feeling a lot better.”
By Christmas 2011, Lamonte’s father’s counts were below the warning level.
“Effectively he’s beaten it, but he’s still battling with it,” Lamonte said.
One of the major events of the night was the Luminaria Ceremony. During this, hundreds of candles in white paper bags were lit. Written on the bags were the names of loved ones who had died from or were currently battling cancer.
“Visual representation will really be what helps it hit home. When I see that (the bags) it helps me know I’m not the only one, my family’s not the only one. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there battling this,” Lamonte said.
Bonnie Gibson walked the Survivors Lap, the opening event where cancer survivors and their caretakers walk around the track, for her daughter who overcame leukemia.
“When people cheer and clap it makes you feel really blessed,” Gibson said. “People just have a great time celebrating life and remembering those that have passed on and celebrating those that have fought the fight and survived. It gives people a sense of togetherness.”
Sophomore Taylor Showalter came out to support her friends and walked in remembrance of her grandmother who died of cancer.
“(Tonight) definitely makes a big difference. Seeing students gathering together and pouring out money and prayers, and seeing people from the community coming together is great and teaches us to stop and remember that God has blessed us with life,” Showalter said.