Cancer survivors, caregiver to relay their stories

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, July 17, 2014

JANESVILLE—Shelby Robbins' life is like most 20-year-olds.

She works two part-time jobs--one as a nanny, the other as a day care assistant teacher--and is a college student.

But life wasn't always normal for the 2012 Evansville High School graduate.

In 1996 at the age of 2, Robbins was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer that causes the bone marrow to make too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. She endured 18 months of chemotherapy, traveled to Madison for weekly doctor appointments and took a host of medications.

"I don't really remember it," she said.

What she knows about her childhood disease is what her parents, Gene and Rhonda Robbins, and her older siblings told her.

That's why her family is helping her write the speech she will give Friday, Aug. 1., as one of two honored survivors of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life of Janesville.

Derrick Hoverson, another honored cancer survivor, will join Robbins and Todd Popanz, an honored caregiver.

Hoverson, a UW-Whitewater student, was diagnosed with medullablastoma, a malignant brain tumor, when he was 15 and endured six weeks or radiation and nine cycles of chemotherapy. He completed his treatments in June 2010 and has been cancer free for almost four years.

Popanz, 52, Edgerton, was a caregiver for his wife, Rebecca L. Popanz, for 20 months. She was diagnosed in July 2011 with breast cancer that spread to her brain and lymph nodes. Rebecca lost her battle with cancer March 1, 2013.

Relay for LIfe raises funds for the American Cancer Society for its effort in finding a cure for cancer and providing support for those fighting cancer, said Tammy Brown, who will co-chair the event for the fifth time with her husband, Tim Brown, whose son lost his battle with leukemia when he was 9.

"Anybody who thinks cancer will not happen to them is wrong," Brown said.

"That's why we do this. We don't want other families to go through what we did. The American Cancer Society spends a lot of money on programs and research so it can find a cure for all cancers," she said.

The 2014 local Relay for Life goal is to raise $77,000--$2,000 more than last year.

"We're on pace to exceed that goal and ahead of where we were at the same time last year with donations," Brown said.

Robbins suffers from late side effects of her cancer and treatments.

"My feet fall asleep in a matter of minutes when I sit," she said. "It's due to my medications."

She also has suffered a number of broken bones--one in her leg, others in her hand and finger plus a stress fracture in her hip.

Overall, Robbins she said she feels "great” today, has annual checkups and has had no cancer recurrence after her first 18 months of chemo.

"It's one of the most curable childhood cancers," she said.

Robbins is excited to tell her story to give others hope.

"I was so young I don't remember, but I can still share that I'm a survivor and tell others they can do it, too," she said.

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