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A life interrupted

--- Honorary chair's cancer return makes Whitewater Relay for Life especially urgent

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published July 30, 2007, 2:50 p.m.)

Every town has people whom "everybody knows." Whitewater is no exception and Mary LaBelle is one of those people.

She's been the local photographer for generations capturing Whitewater's-and its citizen's-history forever through her lens.

She's been at the sporting games, festivals, events and family milestones for so long that she's known as Aunt Mary by many.

"I wouldn't leave this town for anything in the world," she said.

That's why when LaBelle was diagnosed with cancer last summer, news spread fast. People who know her felt personally effected by the news.

It was an especially nasty sarcoma that doesn't usually respond well to treatment, the doctors said.

"They told me to get my affairs together, do what I want to do and see what I want to see," she recalls from her Cravath Street studio and home, LaBelle Portrait Studio, where she's been since 1984.

But the cancer did respond to the treatment and after months of chemotherapy and radiation, she won the fight and deservedly celebrated the victory.

"I remember thinking, 'Yeah, there you go. You didn't get me,'" she said.

The very close call made LaBelle the natural choice for this year's honorary chair of the Whitewater Relay for Life, Aug. 3-4.

In a recent interview however, LaBelle arrived using a crutch with bandages on her left leg.

"My cancer is back," she announced without being asked.

"Everything was looking good, they got it all," she went on. "Then three months later it's back with a vengeance."

Last year, LaBelle's cancer showed itself as a tumor on her right hip then spread to her lungs.

Last month, a tumor appeared on her left leg followed quickly by surgery to remove it. It was cancer again.

She met with her medical team-cancer patients have teams of professionals who work together on people's individual treatment plans-to form a chemotherapy and radiation plan.

In just those days another tumor has formed on her back.

As she spoke, LaBelle was waiting for her medical team to call with their plan. She was hoping they would say to start the chemotherapy the following Monday.

"I want to start right away, right now," she said.

"It's growing fast. I need some help. I need someone to find a cure next week."

Just then the phone rings; it's the doctor. Chemotherapy will not begin when she was hoping. She'd have to wait a week to give her leg more time to heal. Her treatment begins tomorrow, July 30.

"That means I won't be (at the Relay) for sure," is the first thing she says.

"I used to go every year and take the survivor's pictures. When they asked me (to be the honorary chair) I was so excited. I'm so proud of all these people who work so hard.

"Now more than ever we have to find some way to pitch my story at the Relay."

LaBelle's father, Ed, was actually also recently diagnosed with lung cancer. Her brother Tom and his family, mother Shirley and friend Vicki Nelson are doing everything possible to back them up.

"One day I'm saying, 'I'm sorry this is happening to you.' And the next day he's saying, 'I'm sorry this is happening to you,'" she said. "But we're not sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves. We're enjoying every moment that we have here.

"You never know, but my odds are a little-since it came back so fast with a vengeance-what's happening next?

"I don't want sympathy. I want people to not give up. The cure is there.

"We have to keep the hope, keep the faith and never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up."

Whitewater Relay for Life schedule

Friday, Aug. 3

4 p.m.-Relay begins, live music

5 p.m.-Wish Upon a Star Hour-favorite Disney characters or movie lap

5:30-9 p.m.-Food court

6-8p.m.-Opening Ceremony/Survivor Ceremony and Reception

7-9:45-p.m. Healing Touch Therapy by Karen Coburn

7:30-8 p.m.-Lincoln World Drummers

7 p.m.-Best Friend /Caregiver Laps

7:30 p.m.-Team Captain parade/pictures

7-9 p.m.-IHW Massage by Jeff Anding

8-8:30 p.m.-Kehoe Irish Dancers

8:30-9:30 p.m.-Piano Serenade by concert by Jaci Davis

8-10 p.m.-Message by Sharon Baker

8 p.m.-Crazy hat hour lap

10 p.m.-Luminary Ceremony with music by St. Pat's Choir

11 p.m.-Tail Gate Hour-support your favorite team lap

Midnight-Pizza Party by the pavilion, $1 slices

11 p.m.-3 a.m.-Blast Off with Bands, three local bands will provide music

Saturday, Aug. 4

Midnight-2 a.m. Hawaiian Hours -favorite island or beach attire laps and Hula hoop contest

3 a.m.-Movie with popcorn

4 a.m.-Pajama party hour lap

5 a.m.-Sunrise and sunglasses hour lap, best morning look and shades

5-9 a.m.-Breakfast, open to the public

5-9 a.m.-Food court

5:30 a.m.-Old time cartoons

6 a.m.-Around the world hour lap, favorite country costumes. Music from different countries, bands and DJs

7:30 a.m.-Team Canoe Races

7-9:30 a.m.-Healing Touch by Karen Coburn

8:30-9:30 a.m.-Message by Sharon Baker

8-9:30 a.m.-Health Fair screening by Fort Health Care

8 a.m.-Down on the Farm Hour lap, favorite farm/country attire or favorite farm animal

8 a.m.-Line dancing

9:30 a.m.-Closing ceremony


What: Whitewater Relay for Life

Where: Cravath Lakefront Park, Whitewater.

When: Friday, Aug. 3



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