The pride in her smile is evident when Terri Lightfoot talks about how her youngest daughter will be cutting her hair to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life coming up in June. The annual event, which thousands of communities across Canada participate in every year to raise money for cancer research, will be taking place in Invermere on June 16 to 17. Terri will be on a Relay team through Kootenay Savings, where she works as the manager of deposit services. She’s actually been a Relay participant for over ten years, but — having recently survived ovarian cancer — the fundraiser is more important to her now than ever before. Her story is an inspiring example of how cancer can be successfully treated if detected early on.

“I was really lucky,” she said.

No stranger to cancer, Terri’s father-in-law passed away from pancreatic cancer eight years ago. Shortly thereafter, her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer but recovered successfully following surgery. Her aunt on her mother’s side, unfortunately, was not so lucky and passed away from ovarian cancer last February. It was during her aunt’s battle with ovarian cancer that Terri found out about her own.

“I had been having some problems but ovarian cancer is very quiet and sneaky and you don’t have a lot of symptoms,” she said, “and the symptoms that you do have are very generic to women.”

These symptoms, which include bloating, cramping and urgent urination, are often mistaken by women for the symptoms normally associated to menstrual cycles.

In 2010, Terri went to her doctor who sent her for an ultrasound. She was told she had a fibroid outside of her uterus and that surgery was required to remove it. A trip to a Calgary specialist and another ultrasound later, Terri underwent surgery to have the fibroid removed and upon waking up was told that it wasn’t a fibroid, but a ten-centimetre tumour on her ovary, and that she had ovarian cancer.

Five weeks after the surgery, during which they removed the tumour, Terri had a second surgery to remove her uterus, other ovary, appendix, and some lymph nodes and belly fat. Biopsies revealed the cancer had not spread.

“I didn’t have to have any chemo or radiation or anything like that, which is really rare for ovarian — it’s usually one of the deadliest because you don’t catch it right away because of the [generic] symptoms,” Terri said. “It’s usually in a stage three or four by the time you get there.”

Her aunt’s cancer wasn’t discovered until it had advanced to stage four.

“Every way you could have lucked out I think I lucked out, besides it being inside me for a year when they kept telling me it was a fibroid,” said Terri, adding that it was a full year between when she first when to the doctor to when she had her first surgery.  “This is such a big thing for women and it’s such a sneaky one. Women need to talk to their doctors about when they’re not feeling right.”

Through the two major surgeries, which were within five weeks of each other, and the 12 weeks she spent out of commission, her daughters Taylor, 9, and Blayr, 18, and her husband of 25 years, Barry, “were amazing,” she said. She also feels grateful to Kootenay Savings and her co-workers for the tremendous support she received.

“I feel I got off easier than other people,” she said. “I see what my other friend is going through…”

Terri’s voice trailed off as she held back tears. As for the Relay, “I always try to get my friends involved and keep it in the forefront,” she said.

The Columbia Valley Relay for Life will celebrate its 10th anniversary when it returns to Invermere on Saturday, June 16. To register a team, either log in to www.relaybc.ca and select Columbia Valley or pick up a form at the front desk of The Valley Echo. For every $350 a participant raises, they are automatically entered in a draw to win an iPad. For more information on the relay, contact Relay for Life co-ordinator Sheila Tutty at 250-342-9059 or by emailing sheilatutty@telus.net.