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Auburn Relay for Life participant finds “new normal” as cancer patient

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn’s Relay for Life bills itself as: “One day. One night. One community. One fight.” For cancer survivor Nina Vaughan of Auburn the overnight Aug. 20-21 walkathon is a personal journey but also revolves the larger community joining together in a battle against cancer. Each year, 3.5 million people take part in Relay for Life events around the nation, raising money for the American Cancer Society and bonding in an overnight show of support for the fight against cancer. In Auburn, hundreds of volunteers take part in the event, walking around the paved Gold Country Fairgrounds oval to raise funds. Vaughan, a 22-year Auburn resident who works for Auburn Union School District food services as an assistant cook, was a Relay for Life participant before an annual mammogram found a cancerous lump on a breast. Vaughan, 47, describes that day as akin to D-Day or the Day of Infamy in her life. She remembers vividly the phone call after the biopsy and the doctor’s words she feared: “I’m so sorry to tell you that you have cancer.” Vaughan repeats the words and then recalls that she lost all sense of concentration after that. “You’re trying to listen but all you hear is the Charlie Brown teacher voice – wah-wah-wah-wah,” Vaughan said. “And then I heard that I had an appointment with a surgeon the following week.” Vaughan opted for a mastectomy rather than a less intrusive surgical lumpectomy and it’s been a little over a year since treatments ended. Medical professionals don’t describe her current condition as “in remission” anymore, she noted. Instead they say there is no evidence of disease. But the medical vigilance continues, with regular examinations and several medications and supplements to take daily. “Just because your hair has grown back and you’ve gone back to work, doesn’t mean it’s over,” Vaughan said. “They’re still dealing with the cancer.” And when she walks with other Auburn men, women and children next month at the Auburn Relay for Life event, she’ll be sending a collective message to the community that the fight goes on and it involves people you might encounter in your everyday life. “It’s a journey for me and it reinforces how important it is for women to have their annual mammograms,” Vaughan said. “I had no family history so it was quite a surprise. It turns your world upside down.” The American Cancer Society, which is the beneficiary of the fundraiser, is an organization that Vaughan said provides resources in the fight against cancer and support for patients and their families. “I like ACS because it encompasses all cancers – not just one group,” Vaughan said. That help ranges from putting cancer patients in touch with a volunteer who can fit a wig to making gas cards available for needy patients to make appointments, she said. “They do little things that, unless you’re in that circumstance, you don’t know about the need,” Vaughan said. “They’re things in your town or close by.” Vaughan has taken a leadership role with Relay for Life, sitting on the organizing board and helming the Luminaria Ceremony – a candlelight procession honoring those who have lost their lives. Vaughan said she’s facing the future as a cancer survivor positively. “You have to change the way you live and think,” Vaughan said. “We call it ‘finding the new normal.’” ------------------------------------------------------ This is the first in a four-part series on Auburn’s Relay for Life annual event. Read and comment on the entire series at this site. Sunday: How Relay for Life inspires one who has undergone cancer treatment Monday: Cancer survivors share what relay means to them Tuesday: A look back at the first Relay and how it’s helped Auburn residents over time Wednesday: Learn about the most successful Auburn area team and how you can help ------------------------------------- Auburn Relay For Life event schedule When: Aug. 20-21 Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn Opening ceremony 10 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 20 Survivors lap 10:30 a.m. Aug. 20 Luminaria ceremony 9 p.m. Aug. 20 Fight Back/Closing ceremony 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 21