BRADENTON -- Inspirational stories were everywhere at the 2014 Bradenton Relay for Life at G.T. Bray Park Sunday.
Three stories stood out.
Sandy Hudson-Rocklein, Nicole Van Blarcum and Krystal Weaver all are fighting or have fought cancer and all show how varied the disease can be.
Rocklein, the Bradenton Relay For Life 2014 survivor speaker, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma three months before she was to be married at age 24. Lymphoma starts in the white blood cells and attacks lymph nodes throughout the body.
"I began my journey with chemo every two weeks and lost some of my hair as I
walked down the aisle at my wedding," Rocklein told a crowd of 300 moments before the start of the relay, which was rescheduled from Saturday's rainout.
Ten years later, after doctors told her she was in remission, she came down with a very deep cough. The cancer was back, she told the crowd.
Doctors helped stop the cancer a second time. She remains in remission, she said.
"I am living proof that anything can happen at anytime to improve your diagnosis," she said.
Then she drew applause when she said: "Please join me in celebration of a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Together, we are heroes of hope."
Blarcum was diagnosed with breast cancer Dec. 23, 2013, after she discovered a lump in her chest. A biopsy of the lump determined it was malignant and she is in the early stages of treatment.
"I got the diagnosis from the doctor and wanted to tell her," Nicole's husband, Dave, said Sunday. "But she woke up in the hospital bed crying. I said: 'Do you know?' and she said: 'Yes, I already know.' Somehow, she could hear the doctors through the anesthesia."
The Blarcum family owns Vertoris Pizza House, 6830 14th St. W., Bradenton, where Nicole was the No. 1 chef until her illness.
"It's tough because people see her and she looks great and wonder why she has to be gone," Dave Blarcum said. "But that chemo is very rough."
Nicole was radiant Sunday at her first relay as a survivor.
"I feel loved being here," she said.
Weaver, just 26, got a sore throat in the fall of 2012 and went to a doctor after it didn't go away. She was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer.
She's since had her thyroid removed and takes medicine to adjust for its loss although the cancer is gone.
What makes her story compelling is she had volunteered at relays for 11 years and, suddenly, is a survivor herself.
"Go figure, after all those years she would get cancer," said Weaver's mother, Karen.
"Now I know the feeling of being a cancer survivor and being at a relay," Krystal Weaver said. "It feels awesome."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.