Washington County resident Vicki Lawson is a fighter.
She’s been fighting for more than a decade, and just when the battle looked like it was turning in her favor, she had to start fighting all over again. So that’s just what she’ll do.
Lawson was diagnosed with melanoma, a form of skin cancer, 13 years ago, and has now been battling stage 2 throat cancer for about five years.
She had turned the corner to recovery, and had the condition at bay, at least until last fall.
“They won’t ever say a person with throat cancer is cancer-free,” Lawson said. “I did PET (positron emission tomography) scans every three months, and found out in October (of last year) that there was an area of concern back in my throat. I found out Dec. 22 that my cancer was back, and that I had a tumor in my throat again. I’ve been undergoing chemo and radiation.”
Lawson, an avid supporter of Relay for Life, said the organization has been instrumental in keeping her headed down the right path, but she’s also looked to three other sources for guidance that have come through more than she could have asked for: her children.
“My kids have been a true support system for me in all of my treatments. They’ve had to carry a burden that most kids don’t have to see or go through,” Lawson said. “You know, it’s not easy picking your mom up when she’s having a really bad day. I mean literally, physically picking your mom up. In the middle of the night, when things were rough, they’d be sitting on the floor in the bathroom right beside me. It’s not something that your teenagers should have to do, but they’ve been wonderful.”
Lawson said Bradlee, 18, is her protector and guardian, while Mary Beth, 16, has assumed leadership of cleaning duties, and twin sister Tori has been there when their mom needed her spirits lifted. Lawson was also quick to point out that her mother, father and sister have all been there for her throughout this enduring process. Her children, though, are where Lawson’s heart is when thinking about the hardest part of resuming this battle back in December.
“The toughest part was to have to tell my kids that it was back,” she said. “Everything had been so positive up until then, and I saw the look on my kids’ faces, that look of fear that I hadn’t seen for several years.”
The mother of three is finished with chemotherapy for the time being, but she was set to continue radiation on Monday, which is scheduled to last for two weeks. After a week off, another scan will be run to see if the tumor in her throat has shrunk in size. The hope is that it becomes small enough to be removed. What lies on the horizon for Lawson is undoubtedly scary, but she’s ready to take it head on.
“In the worst case, I’m going to lose my life,” she said. “They say in the best case, I’m going to lose my voice. If anybody knows Vicki Lawson, I’m nobody without my voice, because you always hear me before you see me. That wouldn’t be a good thing, but I could live without it if I had to.”
The Relay for Life, which will host its annual event on June 7, has had no shortage of impact on Lawson’s life as well, and she’s been a big factor in pushing Relay for Life within the school system. She’s been a part of Relay since her initial diagnosis 13 years ago, and will be there again this year taking her survivor lap and lending a helping hand. She said she sees herself taking on a greater role with the organization next year and into the future as her children move away from home.
“Relay has helped me emotionally, just being around other cancer survivors, hearing their stories and sharing my story,” she said. “It’s one thing to share it with someone who’s been through it and another to share it with someone who hasn’t.
“I have known most of the chairpeople of Relay all my life, but I have learned that we are a large number in Washington County,” she added. “Those people are my constant, and I know that all I have to do is pick up the phone and call any number of them, and they’ll be there with whatever I need.”
She praised the Washington County community for its efforts and said the way people view cancer everywhere has turned toward the positive in recent years. The fear of mentioning cancer publicly is subsiding, and the determination to do something about it is growing. That perspective from the public really helped Lawson and her family.
“There are true angels in this community, and you can say what you want about small towns, but at my lowest, I would have these little cards and gifts that wouldn’t have signatures, and they’d just say, ‘You’re in our thoughts and prayers,’” she recalled. “I don’t think we could have gotten through December and January without them.”
Even the youth in Washington County are making a difference. Last week, Washington County High School held a Battle of the Classes field day competition, and all proceeds went to Relay for Life. As an instructional assistant of special needs students at the school, it was especially touching for Lawson.
“It’s a true warming of the heart to know that the school system is willing to give students an hour-and-a-half or two hours to support such a worthy cause,” she said. “I was lucky enough to be out there watching it, and it’s just great.”
The one thing Lawson is hoping to bring back into her life is something that she knows all too well can’t be guaranteed, but she won’t stop trying to find, and that’s stability.
“It’s very exhausting,” she admitted. “Emotionally, it takes a toll on you like you wouldn’t believe. Just the constant worry of whether or not you’re going to see your child graduate, or whether or not you’re going to see your daughters get married. I keep telling everybody that I want my life to be a flat line, instead of the constant up and down.”
As of this past Friday, Lawson could check one of those milestones off the list, when she proudly saw Bradlee accept his diploma from WCHS. Prior to the ceremony, she anticipated a flood of emotions.
“I probably will miss most of it, because I have a feeling it’s going to be the happiest and the saddest time of my life. The happiest because I made it, and the saddest because my first-born is grown up and is going to be leaving me,” she said with a laugh.
For now, Lawson’s outlook is positive, but she said that has the potential to change on a day-to-day basis, and she and her family are continuing to fight every day. Her next step will be once again showing her support at Relay for Life, and she said the rest of Washington County and surrounding communities should check it out, especially if they haven’t in years past.
“Regardless of your age, race or nationality, someone you know is going to be affected by cancer sometime in your life, and that’s scary,” she said. “Pick up your tennis shoes and come on out and walk with us, because we’re helping to find a cure for this in the future.”
This year’s Relay for Life event will start on Friday night, June 7, at St. Catharine College.