Inaugural walk will raise funds for breast cancer screening for those in need
Felicia Van Lysal’s medical diagnosis is “treatable, but not curable.” For the 37-year-old woman, that means her fate is determined. In this fact, there is not darkness, but rather light. There is hope.
A young, vibrant woman who is quick to laugh and find joy along the rough – though not lonely – road she journeys, Van Lysal wants to bring hope to others who are diagnosed with breast cancer through Saint Michael’s Foundation’s inaugural Hope Starts Here 5K Walk, set for 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, at Pfiffner Pioneer Park.
“Although this is a serious topic, the Hope Starts Here 5K Walk is a celebration of those who have battled breast cancer or who are currently battling the disease. As we know, breast cancer does not just affect the person who is diagnosed, it affects every member of that person’s family, therefore the day will include activities that will be appropriate for the entire family,” said Candise Miller, development specialist at Saint Michael’s Foundation.
Registration is available through Oct. 7 at hopeisbuilding.com. Cost is $30.
The free event will include food, entertainment and family-friendly activities. Entertainment will include music from Muzzy Broadcasting and live music from local band Raised Reckless. Family-friendly games and activities will be from 2 to 4 p.m., led by Stevens Point Area Senior High School and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point athletes.
Proceeds – 100 percent of them – will benefit the Hope Is Building Campaign, which provides financial assistance to those in the local community for screenings and treatment.
Van Lysal, Wisconsin Rapids, will be one of the speakers at the event, sharing her more than five-year story, which began with a stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis of the right breast with affected lymph nodes in August 2011. There was surgery – removing both breasts, lymph nodes on the right and ovaries to prevent estrogen production. There was chemotherapy and radiation, and a year of remission before the cancer returned.
In May 2013, Van Lysal received a diagnosis of stage 4 metastatic cancer; it has spread to her lymph nodes, liver, lungs, colon and elsewhere in her body.
Now, three years later, she continues not to look at how much time she has left, rather she lives each day fully and looks forward to the next.
“I have a really good support system and positive attitude,” she said, pointing to her faith and her family – husband Randall and sons Izaiah, 6, and Emmanuel, 10 – as her support. “We do everything we can. I don’t sit around and mope. I’m not going to roll over and die. For now I’m stable.
“I’m a faith person, every day above ground is a beautiful day,” she said.
While the funds raised will not help Van Lysal directly, she said through a generous donor she and her family will participate in the walk, and she will focus on others.
“Maybe we can catch it sooner so (others) don’t have to go through it,” she said. “It’s so moving and so powerful when you can put something together like this, and the community says ‘yes, I’m going to give money’ … so others can see there’s hope at the end of the line. I don’t want other people to struggle like me and my family have. This is how I can give back.”
The goal of the event is to raise awareness for breast cancer, but also to serve as a community celebration to honor local women and their journeys with breast cancer, Miller said. At the start of the walk, there will be a survivor celebration followed by an announcement regarding new ways that Ministry Saint Michael’s is working to provide more care to breast cancer patients served in the area.
About two new breast cancer patients (males included) a week are diagnosed and treated at Ministry St. Michael’s Hospital, said general surgeon Dr. Christopher Swiecki.
“The concern is there are thousands of women in Portage County who are not up-to-date with their breast health,” he said. “One of our major goals is to reach out to these women, through activities like Diggin’ the Cause and Hope Starts Here 5K Walk, to educate patients on the importance of breast health screening and break down the barriers that inhibit women from undergoing their screening.”
Saint Michael’s Foundation has a specific fund called The Angel Fund designed to pay for prevention, detection and screening services for patients who are uninsured or underinsured. The goal is to fund the Angel Fund so it is self-sufficient to ensure each woman is able to receive an annual breast care screening.
“There are always new advances in the treatment of breast cancer,” Swiecki said. “Early detection can help save lives.”
Van Lysal currently is undergoing treatment with two experimental, FDA-approved drugs. One she takes weekly and the other daily. So far, her tumors are holding steady and her blood counts have leveled off. While she still gets tired easily, Van Lysal continues to substitute teach grades 4k through 12th grade in the Port Edwards School District, where her children attend and from which she graduated.
She aims to be around for a long, long time, garnering strength from her children – whom she strives to see graduate, have first loves, perhaps get married, and continue to grow and learn and become successful – and from her husband, who before he even met Van Lysal endured his mother’s death from lung cancer.
“I don’t want him to have to lose me either so that’s a motivation too,” she said. “I’ve been in it for a while, and we just roll with it now. It becomes a part of your life. I’m not sorry about it. I don’t look sick, I don’t act sick, I’m not going down without a fight.
“You look at life differently,” she said. “My life is more meaningful and more full every day.”
And every day brings with it a new hope.