Tribune-Courier General Manager
For most of her life, 26 year-old Kim Phelps of Benton has been a cancer survivor.
This Friday night she will join other survivors for the 18th installment of the Marshall County Relay for Life at Carroll Traylor Stadium. An opening ceremony, followed by a ceremonial survivor’s lap will kick off the event at 6 p.m.
A Spanish teacher at Marshall County High School, Phelps serves as the Relay for Life team captain for a group of students and co-workers.
Mitzi English, Marshall County Relay chairperson, said she’s excited to have Phelps involved in the event.
“I’ve tried for years to get the high school involved. When Kim said she would get things going it all came together,” said English.
Phelps said she helped coordinate the team because she wants people to know cancer is something that can happen to anyone.
“I think it’s important for the students to know this isn’t just something that happens to the older generation,” said Phelps. “Cancer can happen to anyone at anytime in their life.”
First diagnosed with a rare form of soft-tissue sarcoma at the age of eight, Phelps underwent surgery as a child to remove a cancerous tumor from her abdomen then spent the next dozen years cancer free. She was given a clean bill of health following surgery and set about living her life without fear of the cancer returning. Phelps graduated high school, attended college, came home to work as a teacher at her alma mater and became engaged.
In 2012, shortly before her wedding day, the unthinkable happened—she learned the long-forgotten mass in her abdomen had returned.
Shortly after her honeymoon Phelps once again had surgery to remove the tumor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
“One of my husband’s first decisions less than a month into our marriage was to give the doctors the okay to remove one of my kidneys during the surgery,” she said. “He was so worried I would be mad at him.”
In April 2013 Phelps got more bad news when doctors told her the cancer had spread to her liver and lungs. An aggressive round of chemotherapy was unsuccessful in shrinking the tumors. As is often the case with chemo patients, Phelps lost her hair.
“It was hard and I tried wearing wigs, but that just wasn’t me. I ended up wearing scarves most of the time and my students were so supportive throughout the time my hair was growing back,” she said.
Phelps has traded in her previously long blonde locks for a super-short and trendy hairstyle that she says she gets more compliments on now than she ever did before.
Phelps said despite her diagnosis, she tries to live her life as normally as possible. She takes a daily oral chemotherapy regimen of Votrient, a medication recently FDA approved to treat soft tissue sarcoma. Recent scans show no change in her tumor and for Phelps that’s good news.
Phelps encourages other cancer survivors to hold onto the positive.
“Celebrate the small victories,” she said. “No shrinkage, but also no growth of the tumor,” she said. “I feel good. I have normal energy and I’m grateful for that. I try to stop and appreciate every single day.”
English said there are 28 teams and just over 330 people registered to participate in this year’s Relay for Life. The county’s fund raising goal is $136,500.
In addition to the survivor’s lap at approximately 7 p.m., a luminary ceremony will be held at 9 p.m. and a silent auction will run from 5 to 8:30 p.m.