Hemple said at least three members of her immediate family were struck with cancer, and then, so was she.
Originally from Union City where these family members lived, Hemple is a resident of Bayonne and discovered she had stage-two skin cancer for which she was treated, but is still on guard against future outbreaks.
“It started out as a sore that wouldn’t heal,” she said. “A biopsy showed it was stage-two cancer.”
The most serious is stage three, so fortunately, she was able to get treatment in time, even though she has to seek regular screenings and avoid sunlight.
“And I love going to the beach,” she said.
Light skinned and fair haired, Hemple used to put on baby oil rather than sunscreen, something that may have contributed to her condition.
Hemple has been active in Relay for Life for about five years, raising money for research, and working to make sure others are aware of the need for early detection.
“She got me involved,” said Elliot, who is also a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with thyroid cancer 15 years ago. “I’m still battling it.”
Her last surgery was nine years ago, but she is always wary of a relapse.
Both women said their lives have changed as a result of their cancer and that people need to pay attention to what their doctors say, getting regular checkups and avoiding things like the beach if that’s what they are told.
Both women are very active in the Relay for Life program which raises funds for research each year.
Relay for Life is an overnight fundraising event to increase awareness and funding for cancer research. An evening of progress and hope, Relay for Life celebrates survivors, remembers loved ones lost, and helps in the fight against cancer. It is open to teams and volunteers from all towns. Teams camp out and take turns walking around a track all night, making the statement that cancer never sleeps, so neither will those who are pledged to fight it.
Today, two out of three people diagnosed with cancer survive for at least five years, according to the American Cancer Society.
Since about 2005 in Hudson County, the yearly average of people diagnosed with cancer has been just under 1,000. Cancer accounts for slightly less than 500 deaths per year here, a significant decline from several decades ago when a diagnosis was often a death setence.
What cancer is
Cancer consists of a group of diseases defined by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells.
The Relay for Life program usually kicks off its fundraising efforts in January in anticipation of an overnight relay held in late spring. In 2014, the event will be held on May 30 rather than early June because many of the students involved will be taking tests. Both women are out on the road raising awareness for Breast Cancer Awareness month, which is in October.
With a table set up in Bayonne City Hall for several days last week, the women greet people coming and going, raising not only awareness among women, but also among men.
“Last year 410 men died of breast cancer in this country,” Hemple said.
This drew the interest of several men who stopped at the table out of curiosity, but nearly all the women who paused seemed to understand the need and each gave a donation, collecting one of the small items the two women offered as thanks.
“A lot of men don’t want to go to get tested,” Hemple said. “But men also need to be screened and it could save their lives.”
Although Breast Cancer Awareness month gets some attention, Hemple said most people are not aware that September is dedicated to children with cancer, something that she finds heartbreaking.
She said she has two fundraising events at the Venice Lounge, a Halloween event scheduled for Oct. 26, and another “Dine out for a cure” scheduled for Nov. 12 from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
The second event is dedicated to a seven-year-old Bayonne boy who has been diagnosised with brain cancer.
“It’s very sad,” Hemple said. “We’re teaming up with Tom Murphy and Venice to raise money. I just can’t say no to a family that needs help. Children with cancer often show more courage and more strength than adults.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.