Print This Page >
People who beat cancer give back through Relay for Life.
By Johanna Love, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: August 1, 2012
Emmaline Hultman was only a couple of months old when her cancer was diagnosed. Robin Wilde was 40. Susie Hawkes was 47.
Now, about a decade later, all three of them are cancer-free and thriving. They try to help others cope with the disease. And they hope for a cure.
Emmaline Hultman was an infant when doctors found her brain tumor. She was Life Flighted to Salt Lake City with her parents: elementary school teacher Wendy and county prosecutor Brian. Of course, she doesn’t remember the tumor or its treatment.
“All I remember is the stories my parents told me,” the 10-year-old said Friday, sitting cross-legged in the playroom of her Wilson home. Across the room at a rocking horse, Emmaline’s little sister Audrey, 7, kept tabs on baby brother Bennett, 2.
“Do you remember this?” her mom asked, showing her a pink photo album so worn that the pages have come loose from the cover.
“Yes!” Emmaline said, pointing to some pictures of kids and adults kneeling in the dirt. “They got grass for us and put flowers in the yard.”
The Hultmans had just moved into their home in Wilson when Emmaline was born. Their yard that spring was an empty expanse of mud.
“We were gone for months and months” to Salt Lake City for treatment, Wendy Hultman said. “When we came back, we had grass and flowers and trees. Brian and I talked about [how] every opportunity we had to give back, we would, because the community gave so much to us. We’ve been trying to instill that in Emmaline, in all our children.”
So every August since Emmaline’s treatment ended, the family has participated in the American Cancer Society fundraiser Relay for Life. For Emmaline’s first relay, she was 4. She missed once because the event conflicted with her annual MRI and checkup in Salt Lake. The family usually forms a team and sells shaved ice and lemonade to raise money, Emmaline said.
“Tell her the slogan,” Audrey said. “Shaved ice for shaved heads.”
The girls couldn’t remember the whole slogan on the spot, but Emmaline shrugged and said she just likes to go to the event to do what she can.
“I like to be helpful,” Emmaline said, “to make less people have to have the experience” of cancer.
Seeing Emmaline walking the survivors lap at Relay for Life, skipping and smiling with her friends, is wonderful for young families dealing with a sick child, Wendy Hultman said.
“You meet people who are just starting out their journey,” she said. “I think Emmaline being there gives them a lot of hope.”
Today, Emmaline likes to draw, kayak, ski, snowboard, ice skate and do gymnastics. She’s a happy, active, soon-to-be fifth-grader.
“We’re always willing to listen and support other families,” she said. “Every year, we get a few phone calls.”
Ten years ago, Susie Hawkes noticed a lump in her breast. She scheduled a mammogram, but on the intake form she didn’t write the lump down, “because if they don’t find it, it’s not there,” Hawkes said with a wry smile during a July 18 interview. “They found it.”
She received a diagnosis of stage 2 cancer three days before her 47th birthday. She had a lumpectomy in Salt Lake City, then came home to Jackson and began four sessions of chemotherapy. She also had 38 radiation treatments in Idaho Falls.
Her daughter, Sydney, was 6 years old when Hawkes got the diagnosis. So when Hawkes’ best friend came over to help shave her head in anticipation of the locks falling out, they handed Sydney felt-tip markers so she could draw rainbows on her mom’s scalp.
“I didn’t want her to be scared,” Hawkes said, reaching for a tissue. “I was afraid I wasn’t going to get to see my little girl grow up. That was the first thing that came to my mind when I was diagnosed.”
Hawkes scheduled her chemotherapy appointments for late in the day so she could go home afterward and rest. She didn’t feel nauseated.
Her “excellent” health insurance paid $52,000 for her treatment. She paid $1,000.
Hawkes’ coworkers and neighbors teamed up to create an elaborate menu, bringing food over every evening for Hawkes, her husband and daughter.
Hawkes went to a cancer support group meeting and walked away feeling fortunate.
“I listened to everybody else’s story,” she said, “and I thought to myself, ‘You don’t need to have a pity party. These people have had it a lot worse than you have.’ I just tried to keep a positive attitude.”
Having cancer made Hawkes re-examine her lifestyle, she said. Within four years of her diagnosis, she sold her business, Land Title Company, and her Jackson home and retired to Star Valley.
“As horrible as it sounds, it was a good experience,” Hawkes said. “It makes you get your priorities straight. I was a workaholic at the time. I would take work home with me. I sold my business, retired and became my daughter’s worst nightmare.”
Since her diagnosis, Hawkes has walked in Relay for Life. In 2005 and 2006, she chaired the event. She volunteers for the Road to Recovery program, driving Jackson-area folks to their radiation or chemotherapy appointments.
“It’s my way of trying to give back,” Hawkes said. “I hope they can come up with a cure.”
Now, at 57, cancer-free for 10 years, Hawkes cherishes the lessons her illness provided.
“Work and that money coming in isn’t the most important thing,” Hawkes said. “It’s the relationships you have with your family, your friends, and helping people. It’s been great.”
After feeling a marble-like lump on her breast while showering, Robin Wilde waited about three weeks to get a mammogram. She and her husband had teenage sons, worked full time and were in the middle of buying a house.
“I just kept feeling it,” she said, “and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s not going away.’”
An ultrasound and needle biopsy proved the lump was malignant. Wilde was 40. Her mother had died of cancer 12 years earlier. She was terrified.
“It felt huge to me,” Wilde said.
Judy Basye, the patient navigator in the oncology department at St. John’s Medical Center, sat Wilde and her husband down and explained what would happen next. That helped.
Also, a friend of a friend, Susie Hawkes, “had just gone though a similar thing,” Wilde said. “She called me up. She said, ‘Come to my house.’ I went and spent four hours there. She explained everything. Talking to somebody who had been through it, that settled me.”
The Wildes visited a surgeon in Salt Lake, decided on a lumpectomy and scheduled it for a couple of weeks later. The surgery went well, and Wilde had to do only six weeks of radiation in Idaho Falls. Her doctor prescribed Tamoxifen to help prevent a recurrence.
It’s been nine years since then, and Wilde, 49, encourages people to do breast self exams and to get any oddities examined right away.
“Cancer is scary,” Wilde said, “but it’s scarier not to do anything about it.”
Wilde has participated in Relay for Life for the past eight years. She co-chaired the event in 2010. For her, finding a cure is the most important reason to raise money.
“People want to keep everything local,” she said. “The American Cancer Society is this huge entity, but if we can really find a cure for cancer, it’ll affect everybody. It doesn’t matter where you live.”
Today, Wilde cleans her house a little less often. She hikes, golfs, hits Jackson Lake and enjoys herself a little bit more.
“If there’s a little bit more dust on the table,” she said, “but if I’ve gone out and gone for a hike, played with my dogs, done anything, it’s OK. It’s a cliche, but life is short, and you only get one shot.”