Ellis witnesses firsthand how Relay for Life helps

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 24, 2012

First in a series

Every day, Andalusia native and Opp resident Katelyn Powell Ellis has the opportunity to see first hand the horrors of cancer, and witness the results of cancer research through her job with the American Cancer Society.

Ellis, who accepted a position with the American Cancer Society as an area rep a little more than a year and a half ago, said she has been involved in Relay for Life since 2004.

“When the job opening came up, it not only struck a physical chord of needing a job, but I also believed in what the ACS does,” Ellis said. “Once I took the job, I found out even more.”

Ellis said that while ACS is second only to the federal government in cancer research funding, that’s not all it does for local cancer patients.

“There are tons of free patient services,” she said. “We work with ‘Road to Recovery.’ In Covington County, it transports patients to and from their treatments or gives them gas money, if we are able to.

“And at 21st Century Oncology, we are opening up a loan closet,” she said. “It’s for cancer patients who need scarves, wigs, prosthetics and bras. It’s located in the women’s dressing room, so they are able to try them on in privacy. It’s a way for them not to have to try them on at the pharmacy.”

Ellis said cancer patients who seek treatment options in Birmingham have the luxury of staying at the Hope Lodge.

“It’s for cancer patients who live 40 miles or more outside of the Birmingham city limits,” she said. “Last year, we had two or three patients that stayed more than 300 days there.”

Ellis said fundraisers such as Covington County Relay for Life are crucial to providing these services, but said that Relay is so much more.

“It’s important for the community to get involved,” she said. “We are a volunteer organization and without people giving of their time and money, we wouldn’t function. This is the sole way for people to get involved.

“This is also an opportunity for us to celebrate those who are continuing to fight and those who have lost theirs,” she said. “We close the Relay for Life event fighting back. It’s literally an emotional journey for a lot of our participants.”

From her standpoint, Ellis said her job is “very rewarding.”

“It’s tough, though,” she said. “There will be patients that you will talk to one week and two or three weeks later they have been lost. That gives me more reason to fight.”

Ellis said she, personally, has lost no family members to cancer, but did see the mother of one of her close friends lose her battle with cancer.

“There are so many faces, and I know their fight and I know their stories,” she said. “And it’s not just the survivors, but also the caregivers. It takes a toll on them.”

Statistics show that one in two women and one in three men will have some form of cancer, she said. “It’s inevitable the way that this disease touches so many lives.”

Ellis said that all cancer survivors are invited to Friday night’s Relay for Life.

“We welcome new survivors. We don’t know you are a survivor until you come,” she said. “They play bingo and they have dinner and they walk the survivors’ lap. For some, it’s a time to emotionally grieve.”

Ellis is a 2003 graduate of Andalusia High School, and is the daughter of Terry and Suzanne Powell.