Miss-Lou cousins living proof that cancer can be survived

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 30, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – Lillian Mashon thought she would never survive a cancer diagnosis — but time has proven her wrong.

“I always said that if I found out I had cancer, I would just wilt,” Mashon said. “But I didn’t. I&160;didn’t shed a tear. I said it was up to me to get through this, and I&160;just did it.”

In 1978, a week after she was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix, she had surgery to remove the cancerous tissue – and she has been free of the disease ever since.

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In 1981, Mashon’s cousin, Barbara McKinley of Natchez, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after a routine blood test detected the disease. But she had surgery a month after the diagnosis, and she has also been cancer free since then.

“Now I&160;play golf, I&160;bowl and I&160;do volunteer work,” McKinley said. But such activities aren’t the only ones they enjoy, for the two cousins are also active volunteers with Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society’s biggest fund raiser.

The sixth annual Miss-Lou Relay for Life will start at 6 p.m. Saturday with a reception for those who now have cancer or have had it in the past. Each cancer survivor will be presented with a T-shirt and a medallion.

McKinley and Mashon will be there, handing out T-shirts to their fellow survivors and doing any other necessary tasks. They also plan to walk in the relay Saturday night, starting with the cancer survivors’ victory lap, which kicks off the relay itself.

“Oh yes,” said Mashon. “We’ll be there.”

McKinley has participated in the event since it began — and Mashon has been involved every year but last year.

“It’s because we had cancer, and because we think the relay is an excellent thing,” McKinley said. Besides, she said, “Cancer has touched so many lives over the years.”

“As a person who had cancer and survived it, you have the desire to do something like this,” Mashon said. “After all, there are a lot of people who didn’t get that chance.”

While Mashon told her family, friends and fellow church members when she was diagnosed, McKinley never told her mother about her cancer.

“She died seven or eight years later, but I never told her,”&160;McKinley said. “I&160;didn’t want her to worry.”

But now, both women are speaking out in hopes that it will encourage more people to get regular checkups and to go to the doctor at the first sign of unusual symptoms.

“Early detection — that’s the key,” said McKinley, whose brother died of cancer.

It is also important for cancer survivors to continue to see their doctors regularly, said Mashon, who still has a biopsy done every year.

They also want those who are living through cancer to see that they can survive the disease and live active lives after it.

“Maybe there’s someone out there who’s just had five years (as a cancer survivor), and they can say ‘Look, they’ve had 20 years,’ and it will give them hope,” Mashon said.

“I count my blessings every day. We all should,” she said, “but especially if you’re a cancer survivor.”