Relay for Life has touched the lives of many in the community. The dedication of family, friends and other compassionate supporters honoring those who have fought cancer, winning or losing the battle, is enough to make even the most unemotional person pause. Bakersfield's residents have set a goal of raising awareness and money to finding a cure for cancer, by participating in the annual event or simply, sharing their stories. Here is the story of one courageous and headstrong woman who refused to lose to cancer.
To The Finish Line for The First Time
Whatever you do, don't refer to her as "that woman with cancer," if you see her in public. Her name is Jan Bans and that is exactly how she wants to be known. It's been a few years since Bans was diagnosed with a rare form of gynecological cancer, and as Bans says, "it's been an experience that has made her into someone new."
Bans, who works at AT&T as Area Director of External Affairs, is strong. Talking about cancer with Bans is like sitting down talking about the weather or weekend plans; there's no level of uneasiness and she's completely open. Fortunately for her, she's gotten herself to a place, mentally and emotionally, that her cancer can't touch. However, the calm and collected Bans that family and friends know today wasn't as well put together in the beginning. In fact, she says, she was "freaked out."
"The scariest thing, I think for any woman or man, is to find a lump on their body," Bans says. "And then there's the anticipation of being diagnosed."
After a failed attempt and being seen at her regular doctor's office, Bans had to turn to her friend Dr. Rebecca Rivera. Immediately after being seen, biopsyed and diagnosed with cancer, Bans was only three days into her week still filled with meetings and the unfortunate reality of having cancer. To make matters worse, Bans still had to deliver the news to her family.
"I was initially shocked but never felt self pity," she says. "I had given it some thought while waiting to hear from the doctor that this could be cancer since it runs in my family, but hearing it is different. Hearing the diagnosis makes it real. When I called up my parents I said, 'It's cancer.' I didn't see the point of sugar-coating the facts, you know, that's just me."
Bans says it wasn't the cancer that had her stomach in knots, it was the thought of the procedures to try and rid her body of the disease that had her feeling uneasy.
"Since being diagnosed I've always said to people that it's not the cancer that's going to kill me it's the procedures," she says. "What you have to go through is painful and debilitating."
One thing she's come to realize in life, especially in dealing with cancer, there's always a curve ball.
Bans, alive and well after having endured painful treatments, is still battling her body. She says after having three additional outbreaks, her doctor says it seems as though her body has not seen this cancer as a threat, therefore it is not fighting the disease. "OK, now that I've shared this, I don't want that face people can give, you know the sad puppy face because they think I'm going to die tomorrow," she says. "I don't want to be called that woman with the rare cancer. I'm Jan. But let me tell you, there are times I have cried, a lot. I've wanted to scream out loud. It's just not productive. I look at this with a lot of faith in God. I'm only going to get out of this what I put into it — if it's sorrow and pity then I'm as good as gone."
People look at cancer differently, she says. She's seen people hang up their coats and quit, and then she's seen people persevere through the worst of times. Her advice to someone newly diagnosed: don't give up.
"Having a negative attitude about anything is not healthy," she says. "Applying it to a situation like cancer is even worse for a person. Whether you pray or have a strong relationship with family and friends, it's important to hold on to what you love the most." And of course, there's the thought of death.
"Oh yeah, I have thought about it before," she says. "But I don't think about it often. I can say that cancer changes you, emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically. But I think it's a good thing, it makes you more knowledgeable to who you really are." Believe it or not, Bans has never been to Relay for Life.
"I really admire the people who go out there and walk for themselves or for family members," she says. "I think it is very inspirational, although I also found it to be very emotional for me. See, my cancer is very rare, and although I'd be out there with a bunch of people I would kind of be walking alone." She laughed. "There's just no ribbon or special month for my gynecological cancer. I drew the short stick on that one."
But it's time to break the mold. Bans has joined Bakersfield High School's Relay for Life team along with her daughter, Elizabeth. "I really wanted to do this for both of us," she said. "I've had cancer her whole high school career. She's been amazingly strong. I'm blessed with her."
Does Bans consider herself a survivor? Most people think of a survivor as someone whose cancer has gone into remission and is not causing the individual any type of pain or discomfort. Bans has a different connotation on the word.
"I look at everyone ever diagnosed and living with cancer as a survivor," she says.
"Some people are very lucky when their cancer goes into remission, but everyday life, thriving and prospering with the disease is survival to me. Let me tell you, if I could get my cancer into remission I would fly to Italy, see every city I've ever wanted to see and more. Life is all about the time you have now."