What’s it like to survive cancer?

By Cassandra J. Sproles

“I could answer that it’s awesome to be a cancer survivor. That I appreciate the sunrise even more. Or that I’m thankful to get to watch my children grow up. Those are all so very true. But if you honestly want to know how it really feels to be a cancer survivor, I’ll tell you this…I feel like I have a huge debt to repay.”

Once upon a time there was a man who slayed a dragon called Cancer. Then the dragon’s little brother, Fear, moved in with him. That’s where our story begins, but rest assured, it ends with hope.

ramseyMarshall Ramsey (’91) always believed that good things came from bad things. For instance, he graduated from UT and took a job as a janitor in Georgia—not exactly a dream job for a college graduate. However, during that time, two great things happened. Ramsey met his wife, Amy, and was encouraged to use his drawing talents to make a career for himself.

Some years later, following a friend’s diagnosis of melanoma skin cancer, Ramsey decided he should be checked, as well. A doctor told him nothing was wrong and that he was fine.

However, a nagging feeling told him something was wrong. He went for a second opinion and was referred to a plastic surgeon, who told him a different story.

“We were cutting off seven moles at a time,” he says. “Then the doctor found a malignant melanoma.” Ramsey had major surgery, but didn’t tell anyone for a year. That was the bad.

cancer“Cancer sucks! It really does,” says Ramsey. “Some don’t get the honor of surviving it, so I feel I have a huge debt to repay.”

One day, Ramsey, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated cartoonist for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, wrote a column about his battle with cancer. Several people responded, saying that because of him, they got checked for melanoma.

Eight years ago, Ramsey and his friend Keith Warren got together and created the Run from the Sun 5K race. Each year, the event hosts around 1,000 runners, screens 200 people for melanoma, and raises money for cancer research.

Though all of this good was coming from Ramsey’s bout with cancer, he was still living with that persistent dragon named Fear.

So Ramsey put pen to paper to draw and write the story “H.O.P.E.,” about a guy who kills a dragon only to find that its little brother has moved in with him. With the help of his Fairy Godfather and H.O.P.E. (Humor, Opportunity to serve, Physical well-being, and Education), the man learns how to vanquish the dragon called Fear.

“It was a ten-year struggle to get over the mental scars,” he says. “But if you can laugh at things that you are afraid of, then you are better off.”

Ramsey also uses his skills to create T-shirts and posters for the American Cancer Society to help raise funds for the cause. It’s his way of giving back and to show those dragons that they didn’t win.

“I should be dead. But I’m not,” Ramsey says. “So I believe that I should pay that blessing forward to give others the same chance of survival that I received.”

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