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Sharing a journey

Norman and Ginny Walters of Oak Harbor do not have children but they do have the ‘girls.’ Their cats, Fado and Tashi, are a big part of their lives, which is obvious from the artwork on their living room walls. Ginny and Norman both have had bouts with cancer and are involved with Relay for Life of Whidbey Island, which is Friday and Saturday at North Whidbey Middle School.    - Ron Newberry / Whidbey News-Times
Norman and Ginny Walters of Oak Harbor do not have children but they do have the ‘girls.’ Their cats, Fado and Tashi, are a big part of their lives, which is obvious from the artwork on their living room walls. Ginny and Norman both have had bouts with cancer and are involved with Relay for Life of Whidbey Island, which is Friday and Saturday at North Whidbey Middle School.
— image credit: Ron Newberry / Whidbey News-Times

Of all of the emotions Ginny Walters has experienced since she was diagnosed with cancer six years ago, one in particular stayed with her the longest.

Guilt.

Walters was numb when she was told she had ovarian cancer. With no family history, she felt it didn’t make sense. Part of her was angry, and she was ready to wage war against the disease. She had surgery and went through four months of chemotherapy.

Back home in Oak Harbor, she drank twice as much water as suggested, and continued her daily walks, only went twice the distance.

“I was duplicating my efforts,” she said. “It was part of the anger. I was trying to double up the efforts to get the bad boys out of my system. That was part of my mental journey. You’re not always dealing with a full deck, so to speak.”

It began as a private journey for Ginny, 59, and her husband Norman Walters. But the more Ginny learned about cancer, the more she saw what other cancer patients went through, the more she wanted to get involved and help others.

Ginny is a member of the organizing committee that puts on Relay for Life of Whidbey Island, which is taking place Friday night and Saturday at North Whidbey Middle School in Oak Harbor.

Her deeper involvement, however, rests in the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program. Since 2009, she has been among a group of volunteer drivers who help cancer patients get to and from treatments.

Starting from Whidbey Island, those rides can be a long journey. But Ginny needs only to reflect on her own experiences to remember those who helped her. She feels fortunate that she’s had no reccurences of cancer.

“I have gone through the five-year mark,” Ginny said. “It didn’t return. I’d say I’m cancer-free. But once a cancer patient, you’re always on the radar.”

Ginny said she was close-minded and private about her cancer in the months after her diagnosis. Over time, the New York native slowly started to open up as she recognized others needed help. In 2008, she got involved with Relay for Life.

“I wanted to help somebody else because I had been helped along my journey,” Ginny said. “I was well aware that it’s crucial that people help and people share and that’s actually something that I did not do when I was going through my journey. I was very close-minded and private about it. I couldn’t even think about it. Cancer just does psychological things to you. Everyone handles it differently and there’s no right or wrong way to handle it. It is what is is. By 2009, I was certainly ready to help someone else’s cause. This was an easy way for me to do that.”

Ginny saw a need to help other cancer patients that she considered in a more dire situation than her. She watched others go through treatment who weren’t as fortunate as her.

She wanted to help. So did Norman, her husband of 30 years and a retired Marine. He accompanies her on patient pickups. Norman also has had a bout cancer, having a melonoma removed.

Both want to help others. Both feel lucky.

“I was fortunate I wasn’t a working woman,” Ginny said. “I didn’t have children at home. Now when I look and see what some women are going through, I’m like ‘Oh my God.’ They are taking themselves to treatment even. They’ve got a family. They’re working. So sometimes I kick myself in the butt, and I did at the time too when I was going through my journey.

“It was the old guilt trip,” she added. “I was stage 1C. They don’t catch ovarian cancer that early. I am so lucky. ‘What do you mean lucky? There’s nothing lucky about this.’ It was a yo-yo. I had a friend here in town that was diagnosed stage 4. The same type of cancer. She battled it for over eight years before she succumbed. That was so difficult to walk that journey with somebody ­— holy mackerel — having gone through the same type of cancer and here I am smiling and she’s still in treatment or back in treatment. It’s like ‘Oh God, how do you do this?’ I ended up taking her to treatment. There is some guilt involved sometimes.”

Cancer has changed Ginny’s mindset, sort of kicked it into over-drive.

“I thought I was Type A personality before this,” Ginny said. “I guess I’m Type AA now.

“I’m a doer. You’ve got to do it because tomorrow may never come. Tomorrow it may rain. Tomorrow, tomorrow. I don’t like that word anymore.”

Ginny also has spent time coordinating patient rides in Island and Skagit counties. She recently received a certificate from the American Cancer Society recognizing her for her contributions. She said there is a need for more drivers. Those interested may contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 (option 1).

“This young lady here that I’m married to, she’s a go-getter,” Norman said. “This has probably been a lot of good therapy for her, taking other patients to the hospital.”

Helping with the Relay for Life of Whidbey Island provides more therapy.

The event is designed to raise money to fight cancer, celebrate survivorship, remember those lost to the disease and also increase awareness of the importance of cancer prevention.

An opening ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. Friday with a survivor lap scheduled for 25 minutes later. Lights will be turned off at 10 p.m. during a luminary ceremony.

Among the Saturday events is “Buzz for Bucks” from 8-10 a.m. For $10, one may get his or her hair “buzzed” by Suzy Dionne.

Ginny said Relay for Life reunites her with friends who share a common goal. “It’s a family without being family,” she said.

“It’s fun as heck. It’s a fun way to bring attention and awareness to this disease. There’s a lot of sharing.”

She learned too to pay close attention to her body. Ginny’s cancer was detected early after she felt a pain in her pelvic area and she didn’t delay seeing a doctor.

“Time is definitely critical,” she said. “In reference to my type of cancer, in which they are no tests so to speak, and there’s no family history, it was listening to my body. ‘In my case, I didn’t ignore the pain, which was excruciating.

“Pay attention to your body. The body speaks. When we have a headache, what do we do? We go for the aspirin. So if you’ve got a pain in your pelvic area, you go to the doctor.”

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