Honorary chairperson on a soapbox

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 31, 2000

Features Editor

Angela Roling has always been a supporter of the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life.

Her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. She lost her father to stomach cancer and her grandmother to lung cancer. She has also lost friends to the deadly disease, so she knew the importance of the work of the American Cancer Society but never really took a leadership role in Relay for Life – until now.

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In November, a routine mammogram revealed a small cancerous lump. Early detection and treatment resulted in a 98 to 99 percent cure. Roling is no longer just a supporter, she’s up on a soapbox.

"Every chance I get, I encourage women to get a mammogram," she said. "Early detection is the key to a cure."

As honorary chairperson of Relay for Life 2000, Roling will have several opportunities to speak publicly about her experience and to encourage women and men to schedule annual checkups which could save their lives.

Roling said the fear of knowing is nothing compared to the dangers of not knowing.

"In the past six to nine months, four of us here in the Adams Administration Building have been diagnosed with cancer," said the vice president of institutional planning and effectiveness at Troy State University. "Two of us women with breast cancer and two men with prostate cancer. The earlier cancer is detected the better the chance of survival. I am on a soapbox because I don’t know of a family in Troy or Pike County who has not been affected by this disease."

Roling said even though there was a history of cancer in her family, she was still shocked when she learned that she had cancer.

"I think you’re always shocked," she said. "You aren’t ever prepared for hearing that you have cancer. At first, I went through denial. There must be something wrong with the equipment, I reasoned. I just couldn’t believe it was happening to me."

Denial, anger and fear finally give way to acceptance and hope.

"Within a week after the biopsy that confirmed that I did have breast cancer, my doctor had me in surgery," Roling said. "A second surgery was needed to make sure they had gone beyond the margins. Thirty-five radiation treatments were prescribed and I was fortunate that I didn’t have to have chemotherapy."

Five days a week for seven weeks, Roling made the trip to Montgomery for radiation treatment. During that time she began to question why cancer had invaded her body.

Searching for a reason was part of being able to cope.

"I wanted to know why," she said. "Of course there was no way that I could know for sure but I did have some theories."

Among those theories, two seemed very reasonable to her.

"So many people my age are victims of cancer and I questioned the effects of above ground atomic testing," she said. "We don’t know what effects atomic radiation had and, it seems possible it could be responsible, in part, for the widespread prevalence of cancer."

She also questioned the role hormone replacement therapy could have had as a cause for her cancer.

Researching the possible causes of cancer was therapeutic for Roling and helped her work through difficult times but what really got her through was the support she got from her family and friends – and other survivors.

"My husband Jim was there with me all the way," she said. "He supported me and encouraged me and he helped me get through day-by-day. And, I can’t say enough about the support of cancer survivors. Cancer is a isolationist disease. Many people don’t know what to say or do but those who have been through it support you and lift you up. Donna Schubert was my mentor. Survivors support survivors."

Roling said she is looking forward to taking a leadership role in Relay for Life this year, just as Schubert did last year when she was honorary chairperson.

And when she gets up on that soapbox, her message – her plea – will be for women, especially those over 50, to have annual mammograms because early detection is the best chance against breast cancer.

"The same day the mammogram found the lump in my breast, I had been checked by my gynecologist," she said. "The lump was so small that it was undetected by my doctor. That’s why mammograms are so important. That’s why they save lives. That’s the message I want everyone to hear."