Relay Champions is a special series The Yadkin Ripple will include over the next month leading up to Yadkin Relay For Life’s event on May 10 at Starmount High School. The series will feature the stories of Relay For Life participants who have survived cancer, lost a loved one to cancer or those who have acted as a caregiver for a loved one with cancer.
To Mark Hayes Relay For Life is more than just an extended fundraising event with fun activities. It’s a beacon of hope.
Hayes was diagnosed with testicular cancer in March of 1994. His cancer was found through an exam following a kidney stone.
“I had experienced some pain in that area, and one day I had a kidney stone. I went to the doctor, and that’s when they found the cancer,” Hayes said. “My urologist initially thought it was a urinary tract infection or something of that nature.”
To Hayes’ dismay it was not that simple, and he underwent surgery soon after his diagnosis to remove the affected testicle.
“At the time I was working a Winston Cup Race Team,” Hayes said. “I went back on the road, and I was in the suburbs of Cleveland. The urologist’s office called, and they had done tumor markers. They were elevated. So they needed me to get back as soon as I could to test them again.”
Hayes was in for more bad news when his tumor markers came back elevated once more. A normal marker level is five or less, and Hayes’ readings were more than 40,000.
“When I got back and did the test, it was still elevated,” Hayes said. “They did CT scans on my chest and found it had spread to my lungs and my brain. They found that in August 1994. That wasn’t a good day.”
Hayes’ chances of survival were not looking hopeful, and his doctors gave him less than a 30 percent chance to live. Despite the odds against him, he and his doctors sat down to formulate a plan of action.
He had two different types of testicular cancer, so doctors struggled to come up with a combination of chemo that would treat both types.
“For five weeks I would go in for one week of chemo and be off for two weeks,” Hayes said. “I went 21 straight days of radiation. The radiologist told my oncologist that I would never make it through the radiation.”
In November of 1994 Hayes had to go under the knife once more to remove the dead tissue in his lungs and a spot on his brain. Since then his cancer has been in remission.
He still has side effects from the high doses of radiation and chemo to remind him of his battle.
“I’ve had hearing loss, radiation retinitis in both eyes, and I had to have hip replacements in both hips because of steroids that deteriorated the bone marrow in my hips,” Hayes said.
Hayes said his biggest struggle was the loss of his signature facial hair.
“Losing my hair was probably the worst thing,” Hayes said. “I had always had a mustache. Always. I had never shaved it off. I was sitting eating some cereal one morning, and I looked down. Aand there it was in the spoon.”
Hayes has beat the odds and now lives his life trying to find ways to inform others of the dangers of testicular cancer and how they can spot it early.
“I was asked to do an article in a weekly racing paper called “Winston Cup Scene” while I was still working for a crew. I agreed to do it mainly to make everyone in the garage area and on pit road every Sunday aware of what testicular cancer is,” Hayes said. “I hope that they would read the article and check for the symptoms.”
Hayes said that he first experienced Relay For Life at the Forsyth County event on the Wake Forest campus. He was excited to see Yadkin County starts its own event and quickly got involved working with logistics.
Since the first Relay he has been working closely with logistics or acting as logistics chair. His wife, Renee, also works for the event as the event co-chair.
“Doing logistics I have to be up in the stands to do lights and last year was my first Relay at Starmount,” Hayes said. “When they started calling people out that had survived, that were caregivers, that had people they knew that had cancer. To see all of those people out there on that track it was a pretty awesome sight.
“There was so much darkness out there but ‘hope’ was glowing in luminaries on the stands. It was just an awesome sight. I don’t know any other way to explain it.”
Yadkin County Relay For Life will host its event on May 10 at Starmount High School starting at 6 p.m. This is an overnight event and the public is encouraged to attend. To learn more visit www.facebook.com/YadkinCountyRelay.
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at email@example.com.