Introducing the 2014 Tillsonburg Relay for Life guest speaker Friday night, Jodi Aspden spoke of how hard it was and how inspiring to watch her sister, Jenny Botzang, battle Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Jenny Botzang is the survivor of Hodgkin's lymphoma. But more than that, Jenny is the mother to an amazing little man, Grant. She is a wife to a loving husband, Travis. She is the daughter of two loving parents. Jenny is a paramedic in Norfolk County and a friend to so many. And most importantly to me, she is a sister... she is my sister.
"Being by Jenny's side during her fight against cancer was the hardest thing I've done. But in the same breath, it was the most inspiring thing. Jenny was nothing less than a trooper every single day. She inspired us all with her positive outlook, and the way she remained true to herself the entire time."
Welcoming everyone to Tillsonburg's 2014 Relay for Life, Botzang opened her inspirational from-the-heart speech talking about what she loves – something dozens of survivors and their families Friday night could relate to.
"I love my hair," said Botzang. "It used to be long, thin, and more gray than I would have liked. Now it is thick, luscious, a different colour brown, and on most days completely uncontrollable.
"I love my eyebrows. They exist and I'm happy about that.
"I love my tattoos – they remind me every day that I am strong, beautiful and able to conquer anything that life throws at me.
"I love the constant aches that I feel in my bones. They remind me that I am thankful to have been given a second chance.
"I love my husband. Without him, I never would have got through the doorway of our home after a hard treatment. It was his arms that carried me then, and his arms that continue to be my strength and support.
"I love my son, who we never thought we would be blessed with. He reminds me every day that life is worth fighting for. I'm so blessed to wake up to his smiling face."
A 28-year-old mother with a six-month-old son, Botzang described herself as a determined, stubborn, loving and positive person.
"Now, to add to that list, someone who's had the opportunity to live with cancer. Fortunately for me, cancer never has and never will define the person that I am. It is simply another journey in life."
2014 Tillsonburg Relay for Life - Survivor Lap PHOTOS
2014 Tillsonburg Relay for Life - Tillsonburg Fire Services Ladder 4 PHOTOS
She recounted how her personal journey began in January 2012 when she woke with a large golf-ball size lump in her neck. A quick trip to the ER led to countless pokes, jabs, X-rays, CT scans, physical exams, and recounting how she had felt over the past six months – overworked, stressed, and no time for eating properly.
Two days later she discovered what she already knew deep in her gut... it was cancer.
"That moment is not one you can ever forget. You instantly see your life in a new perspective and you begin appreciating how amazing it is, and at the same time thinking about how you could have, and will do things so differently in the future."
She started going to the London Cancer Clinic, the next step in her cancer journey – eight treatments, followed by a month of radiation.
"I knew then and there I was in for a real special treat. Two week later the chemo began."
She went home after her first treatment feeling tired and overwhelmed, and three hours later the vomiting began, a symptom she would have for the next six months.
"Each trip into the cancer clinic after that first day made my stomach turn, and continues to make my stomach turn. How can a simple thought or smell make every bone in your body ache? If you went through chemo yourself, or are currently going through treatment, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The good news is, it's temporary."
But she remembers thinking 'will this ever end?'
"Friends, it will, and it does. And the fight is completely worth it. It's your job to remain positive and to smile.
"Cancer affects every one us, directly and indirectly. Every one of us here tonight has a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or maybe a neighbour who has been told they have cancer and has been challenged to join the fight. No matter who you are here walking for tonight, we all have one common goal... to kick cancer's butt.
"We are here to feed off each others positive thoughts, and help remember, honour, or join a current battle with someone you love. That is the beautiful thing about the Relay for Life. We are a family. Every step we take in tonight's Relay represents a step of support. Support for the person going through the treatment, support for those who've lost the battle, support for the caregivers, support for our doctors, nurses and medical system, and for the volunteers."
Botzang summed up by thanking the caregivers – the husbands, wives, children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, or recently-met volunteers.
"You are the reason we continue to fight the fight. You are the reason we get through the day with a smile. The pain we feel as patients, the caregivers feel, but often don't get the opportunity to express because they are the ones being strong for us. Please know, you are the reason for our success. Keep up the great work and know that you are appreciated more than we can ever tell you."
She offered one last piece of advice, not just to survivors, but to everyone.
"Don't wait for the 'someday' to do the things you want in life. Today is the day. Life is meant for living. Take a deep breath, smile from the inside and out, and choose to live. Find the positive in your life and use it to ignite your fire. It will be worth the journey and the many memories.
"Cancer is a journey and a battle you can win. Embrace the change in your life, live without fear, and accept your situations for exactly what they are – a life lesson and an opportunity to grow."