homepage logo

Honorary Relay for Life chair shares cancer diagnosis story

By Staff | Jun 8, 2018

Toni Milbourne/Chronicle Michelle Hart joins in the wreath laying ceremony at the Memorial Day commemoration at Edge Hill Cemetery in Charles Town. On June 23, Hart will be the honorary chair at Jefferson County Relay for Life.

Michelle Hart is no stranger to Relay for Life. She has been involved in the Jefferson County branch of the event since 2005.

“Relay is one of my passions because my mom is a cancer survivor since 1982,” Hart said. “I have lost several family members to this horrible disease: In 1995, my seven-year-old niece; in 1996, my mother-in-law; and in 2006, my grandpa lost his battle.”

Hart said she believes humanity needs to find a cure for all cancers, and that’s why she works to raise money to help with research. But it’s not only family members or friends for whom Hart battles. She battles for herself as well.

In April 2016, Hart was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. In fall 2015, she was having some stomach issues and began losing weight. She had previously had her gallbladder out, she said, so she didn’t think too much about food disagreeing with her.

“I was tired, but I was also caring for my two young granddaughters and thought, ‘Now I know why you don’t have children when you are 46,'” she recalled.

“I had my annual physical scheduled for April, and when my husband insisted, I moved it up and went in,” Hart said. “The doctor immediately sent me for bloodwork and ordered a colonoscopy that had to be insurance-approved because I was not yet 50.”

Upon hearing that Hart was waiting for insurance approval, the doctor called the insurance company herself and moved along the process.

“She told me I needed to call first thing Monday and not to put it off because my cancer marker that was supposed to be less than 3 was a 38,” Hart said.

All of this happened at the same time Hart was headed to Shepherd University to participate in the school’s annual Relay for Life.

“I lost it,” she said. “I called my husband and told him what the doctor said, then called my best friend, Heather. I went to Relay and carried on as if nothing was going on.”

On April 14, Hart had the colonoscopy and was told she had a two-inch mass on her rectum and it needed to come out. A CT scan also showed spots in her lungs.

She had surgery to remove the mass on April 28 and on June 15 she began her first round of chemo, which was scheduled every two weeks for 12 cycles, along with radiation every day for 28 days.

“I had scans in August that showed the chemo was working,” Hart said. “So after 12 cycles, they did more scans that showed even more shrinkage of the spots in my lungs.”

Things were looking brighter for Hart. Her cancer levels were down as she headed into the holidays.

But in March, the scans showed things were growing again. A biopsy in April 2017 showed one of the spots in her lungs was colorectal cancer that had metastasized. She began her next round of chemotherapy that May.

“It was a rough 17 rounds,” she said. “This round just made me sick and I lost my hair. Results were all over the place, so I decided to go to Johns Hopkins for a second opinion.”

Doctors there suggested a cycle of a new drug, which Hart is currently taking.

“I am just so thankful to have a wonderful family and so many friends that I can lean on,” Hart said. “And there are times when I need a, ‘You can do this!'”

The Jefferson County Relay for Life is scheduled for June 23, beginning at 6 p.m., at Jefferson High School. Contact event coordinator Penny Horner at penny.horner@cancer.org to join a team or donate.