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Searching for a Cure

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By Calen McKinney

Even after the second time, it didn't take her spirits. Judie Overstreet, 67, has fought cancer twice - and lived to tell her story.

Overstreet is one of seven children, and one of many in her family who has battled cancer.

Her fight with cancer first began 12 years ago. Cancer cells were found in her uterus. Her treatment required that she undergo six radiation treatments and have a hysterectomy.

"I was blessed," she said.

Before her diagnosis, she said, she had skipped a few appointments with her gynecologist because of insurance problems.

Overstreet later learned that she was actually at a higher risk for cancer because she had never had children. Now, she never skips those appointments.

"It's important to keep these things up," she said. "I thought, [one never knows] what will happen in two to three years. I might not be here."

Nearly 10 years later, in 2003, a microcalcification was found in her breast during a routine mammogram.

"It, in itself, is not cancer," she said, "but it indicates that there may be a growth behind it.

"Eighty percent of the time it's nothing. I was in the 20 percent."

Overstreet underwent a biopsy and the lump was removed. The cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes.

"I was blessed again."

Overstreet said it's hard to explain what it's like to be told you have cancer.

"When I went, I didn't expect to hear that word," she said. "I went by myself. I did begin to cry."

She said she remembers being reassured by her doctors that they had caught the cancer extremely early and that she was going to be OK.

She also remembers telling that to her family.

"I was convincing that I was going to be OK," she said. "And that was their reaction.

"I said, 'Oh yeah, I'll be OK.' And so far, I have been."

For this second round of cancer, Overstreet would have to undergo six weeks of radiation treatment.

"I know so many have suffered [from cancer treatments,]" she said. "I was never tired, never sick."

Overstreet traveled by van to and from the James Graham Brown Cancer Center in Louisville to receive her treatments. In 2003, she said, the local center was not yet open.

She said traveling in the van each day was actually fun and she bonded with the others who were fighting cancer right along with her.

"It was like a family," she said.

She said she went to the back of the van, even though she usually gets carsick when riding in the back of a vehicle.

"I had a little pity party," she said. "I remember thinking, 'Woe is me. I'm libel to get carsick.'

"I never did get carsick, isn't that something?"

She said she looked in the front of the van and realized there were those suffering much more than she was.

"And so my party was over. I never thought of it again."

She said she was the first one of her group riding the van to finish with her treatments. When she finished, the group gave her a card and two of her closest friends on the van, Linda and Lisa, gave her some money.

She said she told them she would save the money and buy herself something really special. She eventually found a set of dancing snowmen.

"Every time I get it out, it's Linda and Lisa dancing for me," she said.

To this day, Overstreet says she has only been a bit tender from her radiation treatments. She has had no other side effects.

"I consider myself blessed. The key to that is getting it at the right stage. If it had been in my lymph nodes, my whole journey would have been different."

Overstreet kept a journal of her cancer experience. She said it includes the story of how she counted the seconds each radiation treatment lasted.

"That's silly," she said. "But you can see those numbers coming down. You can think of ways to help yourself."

Overstreet said there are many lessons to be learned while undergoing cancer treatments. The first, she said, is to not count on your projected last treatment date to actually be your last.

She said she wrote her last treatment date on her calendar but then later removed it when she didn't want to be disappointed if that date wasn't realistic.

"I remember thinking, 'Judie, what are you doing? It will be over when it's over.' It was OK. You just learn that you take each day."

Another lesson Overstreet learned was to trust that everything would be OK.

"I knew whatever happened, it would be OK," she said. "I knew the good Lord was with me."

Her friends and family were also with her, she said. She received countless cards, phone calls and prayers from her family, friends and church members.

"That was my strength," she said.

Overstreet, originally from Ohio, has lived in Taylor County since she was 6. She and her husband, Don, don't have any children together. Don, however, has two sons and a granddaughter from a previous marriage.

Today, Overstreet has been cancer-free for nearly five years.

Her advice for those currently battling cancer is to put their faith in God.

"I hope they know who the Lord is," she said. "That's who your strength comes from."

Also important, she said, is keeping a positive attitude.

"The good Lord was just with me," she said. "It was gonna be all right no matter what.

"I look at healing in two ways. One, we're physically healed. Two, we're really healed when we're a child of God and go on [to receive] complete healing."

Overstreet is one of several in her family who have battled cancer. Her father and two of her brothers died after battling cancer. One of her nephews is now beginning his own fight with cancer.

"It just seems like we've had problems," she said.

Overstreet said it's sometimes hard to grasp that she has survived cancer while some of her family members haven't.

"It's hard to understand why I survived two rounds and have two brothers that didn't," she said. "They could have had so much more life.

"I feel like my brothers couldn't be [physically] healed," she said. "But they are really healed. They're whole now."

Overstreet said her family has taken extra precautions because of their history with cancer. Her relatives are now teaching their children to be more cautious and aware of the types and treatment of cancer. She also keeps up with new medicines.

"That gives people hope," she said.

Though she has been cancer free for almost five years, Overstreet says she doesn't worry about it coming back.

"I'll fight it, if it does," she said.

Today, Overstreet spends her time knitting, crocheting, making crafts and attending missionary groups with her friends at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church. She also serves as a caregiver two days each week.

She said she hopes her story might help someone struggling with cancer.

"I know not what their journey is," she said, "but I know some of it ... God loves us all the same. Our circumstances are just different.

"Focus on the good, it makes our journey better."

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.

Relay for Life begins tomorrow

Taylor County Relay for Life events begin tomorrow at Taylor County High School. The annual event raises money for the American Cancer Society. This year's theme refers to movies.

According to relayforlife.org, Relay for Life is the American Cancer Society's signature activity that offers everyone in a community an opportunity to participate in the fight against cancer.

During the annual event, teams of people camp out and take turns walking or running around a track or path.

For more information, or to participate, contact the local American Cancer Society at (800) ACS-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

Teams participating in this year's Relay for Life are:

- Woodlawn Christian Church.

- Family Ties.

- Cumberland Crusaders.

- Palestine Baptist Church.

- Amazon.com.

- Survivors Team.

- Taylor County Elementary School.

- South Campbellsville Baptist Church.

- Acton Baptist Church.

- The Grand View.

- Asbury United Methodist Church.

- Reverence for Christ.

- NAMI.

- Taylor Regional Hospital.

- Taylor County Bank/FFA.

- Central Kentucky News-Journal.

- Lowell Avenue Baptist Church.

- Kroger (Green River Plaza).

- Forcht Bank.

- Circle of Friends.

- Wise.

- Friends and Family of Willis Carter.

- Green River Memorial Baptist.

- Taylor County Middle School.

- Cox Interior.

- United Citizens Bank.

- Together of Friends.

- Campbellsville Independent schools.

- Community Trust Bank.

- Citizens Bank.

- Wal-Mart.

- Taylor County High School.

- Kroger Pharmacy.

- Greensburg Oil.

Schedule of events

3 to 6 p.m. - Survivor dinner provided in the TCHS cafeteria. Survivors can pick up T-shirts and register for door prizes. For more information, call Lisa Cave at 469-0496.

5 to 7 p.m. - Teams arrive and set up.

7 to 8 p.m. - Opening ceremonies. The National Anthem will be performed by Allie Hash. Prayer will be led by Dave Collie. Taylor County Junior Color Guard, Hannah Ellis, Clint Graham and Zach Sharp will also perform.

8 to 8:30 p.m. - Kick off and instructions.

8:30 to 10 p.m. - Cake walk, laser tag duels, corn hole tournament, kids' games and bounce house and stunt man event practice.

10 to 11 p.m. - Luminary ceremony, hosted by Marty Bagby and Rob Collins. A performance will follow by Kristin Willis and Ellis.

11 p.m. - Live auction.

11 p.m. to 2 a.m. - Big hair contest, make-up contest, stuntman olympics, corn hole, laser tag, kids' games and inflatable slide.

2 to 3 a.m. - New "Fight Back Ceremony" with personal pledges to fight cancer.

3 to 5 a.m. - Aerobics wake-up sunrise event, bingo.

5:30 to 6 a.m. - Score keeping tally and prize ceremony.

6 to 7 a.m. - Closing ceremony.