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Friday, 25 July 2014 00:00

Janesville Relay for Life: Surviving, thriving after childhood cancer

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Derrick Hoverson, 20, of Janesville and Shelby Robbins, 20, of Evansville are the honorary survivors for this year’s Janesville Relay for Life. Derrick Hoverson, 20, of Janesville and Shelby Robbins, 20, of Evansville are the honorary survivors for this year’s Janesville Relay for Life. Terry Mayer/staff

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- Two grade school classmates who battled cancer when they were young will deliver a message of hope and sharing at this year’s Janesville Relay for Life.

Derrick Hoverson, 20, of Janesville and Shelby Robbins, 20, of Evansville are the honorary survivors for this year’s relay that will be held from 4:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1, to 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Rock County Fairgrounds, 1301 Craig Ave.

Hoverson and Robbins were classmates when they attended Footville Elementary School. Hoverson said they have not seen each other much since elementary school but have talked to each other during the past month about the upcoming relay. Hoverson and Robbins will talk about their struggles with cancer during the opening ceremony.

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"It’s kind of amazing. I haven’t seen her since (elementary school), because she went to Evansville High School, and I went to Brodhead High School," Hoverson said. "We’ve talked during the past month. She’s like, ‘Have you worked on your speech yet?’ and I said, ‘I have some stuff written down, but I don’t know exactly what I’m going to say yet.’ I guess I have to do it soon."

Hoverson was nominated by his mother, Deb Hoverson, to serve as an honorary survivor.

"It’s definitely an honor. I’ve been asked the past couple of years, but I wasn’t quite ready to get up in front of a lot of people and tell them my story," Hoverson said. "I was Whitewater’s honorary survivor two years ago, so it was a little smaller so I decided to do it in front of a smaller crowd, then I could work my way up to a bigger crowd."

Hoverson has participated in the relay during previous years. Besides being an honorary survivor, he also plans to be a member of Grainger’s relay team at this year’s event.

"I love it. I love to do volunteer work. I like to help people out with what they’re going through, because I’ve already been through it," Hoverson said. "We’ve had our own team during the past many years, but now that everyone is older it’s hard to bring everybody back together, which is why I joined the Grainger team."

Derrick Hoverson

Hoverson was diagnosed with medullablastoma when he was 15 years old, after a tumor the size of a lemon was found in the back of his head. After having the tumor removed, he had to undergo six weeks of radiation treatment and nine cycles of chemotherapy.

Hoverson has been cancer-free for about four years; however, he still has to have an MRI done every year, and he has lost some vision in his right eye because of the medication he had taken during chemotherapy.

Deb Hoverson said she is impressed with the courage that her son displayed during his cancer treatments.

"I’m very proud of how he took the diagnosis. There were so many weeks trying to figure out what was wrong. They got him where he needed to be at Children’s Hospital in Madison. He answered all of their questions, and we supported every decision he made. He had such a positive attitude," Deb Hoverson said. "I couldn’t be prouder of him. A lot of kids get devastated with it and don’t go on with their normal life, but this kid just took it and made the best of it."

Hoverson, who graduated from Brodhead High School in 2012, has studied business at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater the past two years, but has decided to take a year off from school. He said he plans to return to UW-Whitewater to obtain his associate degree in business.

"I already have two years done, so I might as well finish it," Hoverson said. "I also want to do a lot of volunteer work."

Shelby Robbins

Robbins was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was 2 years old.

"I actually don’t remember any of it, so what I know is, pretty much, through my parents and older sister," Robbins said. "I had chemotherapy for almost two years, and other medications that have left side effects but nothing serious."

Because of medication that she took during her treatment, Robbins has nerve damage in her feet.

"I have nerve damage, and (my feet) fall asleep, and they’re always cold, even when I have wool socks on," Robbins said.

Robbins no longer has to undergo any treatments, but she has a checkup at least once a year.

"It’s mostly when I go to a different doctor, I can tell that doctor everything that happened," Robbins said.

Robbins said she also is looking forward to sharing her story at the relay.

"It’s exciting, because I’ve always heard the stories of other people and I thought I could share mine, too," she said.

Robbins said she has no idea who nominated her but received an email from the Relay for Life committee informing her that she had been selected.

Robbins said she has participated in the relay during the past few years. She said being involved with Relay for Life gives her the opportunity to interact with other cancer survivors.

"(My mother and I) went to Alaska awhile ago, and we went to one there, too. So, we try to be able to go," Robbins said. "It’s fun. It’s kind of crazy though, because I’ve been a survivor for 18 years, so all the survivors who are in my group are older than me, and I’m always the younger one that’s further back. So, it’s kind of weird having it be like that."

The Janesville Relay for Life will begin with a survivor reception and will include an opening ceremony, survivor and caregiver lap, and luminaria, fight back and closing ceremonies. The purpose of the event is to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Tammy Brown, co-chair of the Janesville Relay for Life, said the goal is to raise about $77,000 this year. She said many of the relay teams host fundraisers to obtain money for the American Cancer Society.

Brown said it’s inspiring to see all of the relay teams and cancer survivors interacting with each other.

"It’s amazing to see all of the survivors there," Brown said. "My husband, Tim, and I have been chairing the event for the past five years. Our son died from leukemia when he was 9 years old. We do it to help raise money for the American Cancer Society. People get involved for a number of reasons. Some people get involved because they’re survivors. Some people get involved in memory of a loved one, and some get involved to raise money for the American Cancer Society."

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