»Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
~ Winston Churchill
By Mary O’KEEFE
There was nothing “little” about the attitude of Saturday’s speaker for the Foothills Relay for Life kick off event in Montrose.
Sgt. Jonette Green from the California State Military Reserve spoke to the audience at the corner of Ocean View Boulevard and Honolulu Avenue of her history with dealing with cancer.
“Basically [my story] started in 2004,” said Green. “My dad died from [exposure to] Agent Orange. He had eight different cancers.”
Millions of gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed by the U.S. military on trees and vegetation during the Vietnam War, exposing personnel. Some reports link Agent Orange to cancer.
It was in 2004 that Green and her childhood friend, and later caregiver, Specialist Hector Gomez were asked to be the color guard in Los Alamitos at a Relay for Life event.
“There were people in purple, singing and dancing,” Green recalled.
Gomez and Green were not certain what the event was, so they stayed to learn more. What they discovered was many of those who were walking the track and having such a good time were cancer survivors and others who had their lives touched by cancer.
“We volunteered to go back,” Green said.
It was that same year Gomez’s father, who also served in Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange, died.
“The next year we asked members of our unit to do a [relay] team,” she said.
Gomez and Green became very active members with Relay for Life, and then in August 2008 Green’s mother passed away.
“We found out after [she died] that my mom had lived with a rare form of cancer,” Green said. Her mother never shared the knowledge of her disease with Green or her siblings.
“She lived with it every day, with her head held up,” she said.
But more health challenges were lurking.
Green had applied for a job with the Pasadena Police Dept., which included a physical exam.
“Pasadena Police does a cancer [scan] as part of their application process,” she said.
It was during that process that she was diagnosed with cancer. On her 30th birthday – April 16, 2009 – she was told she had cervical cancer. Then she was told she had uterine cancer on Dec. 13, 2009.
She went through three rounds of chemotherapy, four experimental drugs and three treatments. She is now in remission.
Gomez has been her friend since they were kids. They lived in the same neighborhood and their dads were friends. When she was diagnosed with cancer, he stepped in as her caregiver. He is there for Green, supporting her through the days of weakness and nausea from treatment. And at times that support means to listen and just let her fight the cancer her way.
When asked what Gomez would say about Green’s cancer fight, she said, “He will tell you I am a pain in the butt.”
Which is exactly how Gomez described her. She had made up her own mind about treatment. When she was supposed to rest, she got up. She never stopped fighting and faced the cancer head on.
And she found a kinship with other survivors – as Gomez did with caregivers – at Relay for Life events.
On Saturday evening, members of the Foothills Relay for Life teams listened to Green’s inspirational story and then did a mini-luminaria walk down Honolulu Avenue to remind everyone of the upcoming 24-hour event.
The Foothills Relay for Life will be held at Clark Magnet High School in La Crescenta/Glendale on May 11-12. It is a 24-hour walk when participants have a member of their team on the track at all times; they never rest because cancer never rests. Each team raises money that goes to the American Cancer Society for cancer research, awareness and treatment.
To sign up to form or join a team, or to support a specific team, visit www.foothillsrelayforlife.com.
“Cancer didn’t bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet.”