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Cancer doesn’t care how young you are

Jo Ann Costanza
Relay for Life

At 1, Bill Penrod was a typical tot, golden ringlets framing his ruddy-cheeked baby face. He was full of giggles and a bit of a smart aleck. From the time he could talk, he called his mom “Kelly.” When an adult chided “You should call her Mom,” he gave them a lofty glare and said, “If I did, all the other moms would think I was talking to them.”

At 4 years old, something went terribly wrong, and Bill Penrod and Kelly Dresser-Le Count were suddenly thrust onto a nightmare roller-coaster ride, out of control, gone off the tracks. He developed a rare form of cancer called Burkitt’s lymphoma. If you think you know the dark ending to this story, you don’t, because Bill is a cancer survivor.

Yet his journey to recovery and eventual remission was not without pain and fear as mom and son made arduous trips from Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland to their Sierra home. With cancer, the treatment is often as torturous as the illness, especially for a single mom whose little boy was too intuitive of what was coming. I won’t give you all the medical details; just one: This 4-year-old, who should have been playing and running with friends, had 16 inches of his intestine removed. Hard to believe? Not the light reading you prefer? Well, cancer doesn’t play fair and it doesn’t care who it picks on. Bill is 27 now. The repercussions of too much chemotherapy and various treatments did not leave him unscarred – but he is alive.

When Bill and Kelly would go for treatments, Bill would ask, (arms outstretched) “Is it going to hurt this much or this much?” If the doctor said “this much,” Bill would say “Then could someone take Kelly to the cafeteria so she doesn’t have to watch?”

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life, which celebrates the lives of people who have battled cancer, will be held Aug. 11 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at Kahle Park. Tons of activities are being planned; games for kids, caricatures by Vern Lee, armchair massages by Blue Tahoe Massage, live music and a disc jockey, a silent auction and a pet parade. There is no limit to how big this can be, because there is no limit to how cancer impacts our lives.

If you would like to join a team or volunteer your services or product, call Jo Ann Costanza at 775-544-2783, Michelle Hale at 775-828-2203 or Gary Newman at 775-379-5297.


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