Cancer survivor picks up fight for a cure

Omak woman promotes Relay, regular checkups

— A local woman said the value of cancer screening hit home – after she was diagnosed with the disease.

Tina Eiffert, chairwoman of the Wally Walkers Relay for Life team, said she was diagnosed in November 2011 with stage 3 cervical cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes.

“It was very preventable, had I gone in for checkups,” she said.

Eiffert said she had no symptoms but when she turned 41 in October 2011, she decided it was time for a health checkup.

“It was a little bit of a shock,” she said. “I always said I was the healthiest sick person I knew.”

Coincidentally, she said she had the unpleasant duty of telling her parents about her diagnosis on the same day their first great-grandchild was born.

“I have this personal guilt. It was tough to tell my parents the same day their first great-grandchild was born and to ruin what should be their happiest day,” she said.

She underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and now her cancer is in remission.

“Cancer opened my eyes to life,” she said. “My outlook changed. I appreciate life and family more. It opened my eyes to everything.”

Eiffert attended her first Relay for Life the spring after her diagnosis.

“I want people to know they need to get checked out and be aware funding is out there” for cancer support and research, she said. “We need to keep the funding there.”

“Her story is what it’s all about,” Relay Team Development Chairwoman Cheral Montanez said. “She’s used those services,” from gas vouchers to motel rooms.

“The Relay does help local people,” she said.

Relay for Life raises money “to help prevent cancer, save lives and diminish suffering from the disease,” the American Cancer Society said. “While you’re raising much-needed funds, you’ll also be raising awareness of cancer prevention, early detection, treatment and patient support.”

Eiffert said she’s so grateful for advances in treatment made possible, in part, by donations to the American Cancer Society.

“Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have been alive for my daughter’s wedding,” which was earlier this month, she said.

Support is one of the biggest benefits of being involved with the Relay, Eiffert said.

Although she received plenty of support from her family, friends and co-workers at Walmart, she said none of them quite knew how she felt.

“I didn’t quite feel understood. I still felt kind of alien and not connected with others,” she said.

That changed when she attended the Relay and participated in the survivors’ lap.

“We talked and shared stories. Their stories mirrored mine,” she said. “I kind of felt I found where I belonged.”

The Wally Walkers team has raised more than $3,000 and reached a threshold of company employee participation needed for Walmart to donate another $5,000, she said.

Another team fundraiser – the Ride for a Cure motorcycle event – was yesterday, May 11.

People can still donate to her team or any other team by visiting the Relay for Life website, or by attending the relay.

As of May 9, the relay had 23 teams and 286 participants who had raised $21,841.01, the Relay website said.

“I just want everyone to know they are saving lives and their donations are fully appreciated by survivors,” Eiffert said.

The overnight Relay for Life begins at 6 p.m. May 17 on the Okanogan High School track, 255 S. Fifth Ave.

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