Relay For Life 2014: Survivor reflects on beating cancer twiceBy Emily Beckett Published 5:23pm Thursday, April 24, 2014
Lee Conway loves to see crowds of people supporting the fight for a cure for cancer at Chilton County’s annual Relay For Life event.
“I can’t hold tears back when I get there and I see all the tents set up and all the purple shirts of the survivors,” Conway said. “It touches me beyond any way words can describe to see people there celebrating new birthdays.”
Seeing people rejoice in their victories over cancer is special to Conway because he is a two-time cancer survivor.
“It has affected me personally,” Conway said of the disease. “It’s encouraging.”
In December 2006, Conway was diagnosed with Stage 3 tonsil cancer after a routine endoscopy.
“They found a spot on my tonsil,” Conway said. “They did further tests and a biopsy and found out it was malignant. When I found out that news, it’s like a rug was pulled out from under me.”
Conway, 51, of Thorsby is a 15-year resident of Chilton County.
He works in sales and is a minister with a local radio outreach ministry called Double Portion Ministries, which broadcasts on WKLF and WLGD.
Conway and his wife, Shelia, stay busy with their two grandchildren, Michael and Joshua Bolt.
In his early 40s, Conway thought he had his whole life ahead of him.
“It seemed at that time as though all hope is gone,” Conway said. “The first thing you think when you hear cancer is ‘I’m going to die.’”
Conway said he leaned heavily on his Christian faith and family to carry him through the treatment and recovery process.
“First and foremost, I believe that God is the healer, and he gives doctors wisdom and knowledge,” Conway said. “At that point in my life, if it wasn’t for the support of my family, I probably would have given up hope.”
Over a two-month period, he endured a radical tonsillectomy, seven chemotherapy treatments and 35 radiation treatments, only to receive a discouraging prognosis.
“The doctors were saying that I most likely would have to have a feeding tube and I would probably never be able to swallow correctly,” Conway said. “Through my faith, I trusted and believed I would be normal again, and over time God restored everything.”
But cancer wasn’t finished with Conway.
In 2010, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“Whenever I found that out, I was just like, ‘Here we go again. What am I going to do now?’” he said. “I conquered this, and all of a sudden I get this devastating news, and it’s horrible.”
Conway underwent an invasive operation to remove his prostate, and although he didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation treatments, he had to go through a series of painstaking tests to make sure the fast-growing cancer had not metastasized to his bones or anywhere else in his body.
“I praise the Lord because they were able to discover it in time before it spread and to get it out with just an operation,” Conway said. “It took me awhile to recover. I’ve had to have two operations since to repair where they did the original surgery to remove the prostate.”
Conway is in total remission and devotes time to Relay each year, raising money for cancer research and patient support services such as lodging during treatments.
He became involved with Chilton County’s Relay For Life in 2007.
“The year I became a survivor, a good friend of mine from church, Alesha Foshee, asked me would I be interested in co-captaining the team from First Assembly, where I was at the time,” Conway said. “I was honored to do that. I didn’t know that much about it. We went to the meetings and learned together, and I’ve been involved in Relay ever since.”
Conway said he and Foshee co-captained the team for about four years, after which he was involved in Relay solely as a survivor.
“This year, we formed a Double Portion Ministries team,” he said. “This is our first year. We have about 15 active team members.”
Conway said his participation in Relay is not just for him.
His nephew, Scott Hooper, is a leukemia survivor; his sister, Marie Hayes, has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and recently completed her last chemo treatment; and his niece, Stephanie Porter, is receiving chemotherapy for a rare blood disorder from birth.
“I guess my biggest goal would be to spread the word that we need as many people to support Relay For Life and cancer research to facilitate a cure for cancer so that all this goes behind us,” Conway said.
He and the Double Portion Ministries team will be at campsite No. 25 at Relay, which will take place at the Clanton youth league football field and track April 26 from noon to midnight.
“We will have a prayer tent set up for anyone needing prayer, and we’re going to be providing some food items as well,” Conway said.
He expressed gratitude to his wife and Dr. Susan Ferguson, formerly of Shelby Cancer Care Center, for helping him conquer cancer.
“It’s important to have a good support system,” he said and added that he hopes sharing his story will encourage other cancer patients to believe they can beat the disease, just as he did two times.
“Keep the faith, keep a positive attitude and never give up,” Conway said. “Don’t accept the negative answers. It’s all about believing in yourself and your family and your caregivers. It’s a struggle, but just hang in there.”