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By David Knopf, News Editor
When organizers of Ray County’s 16th Relay for Life walk chose its 2013 Heroes of Hope, making a splash coinciding with a move to the square may not have been the objective.
But in honoring cancer survivors John D. Thompson and Lisa Krugman, the committee chose two beacons of strength, grit and optimism.
When organizing chair Glenda Reynolds announced the selection of Krugman – like Thompson a veteran of two different cancer battles – she described a person who typified the inspirational qualities the committee was seeking.
“If this person could bleed purple, she would do it,” Reynolds said.
Krugman, a participant in every Relay for Life since moving to Richmond from California 15 years ago, was wearing purple Friday when she and Thompson circled the square in the ceremonial first lap. It was a big night for the Heroes of Hope, but also for the square, which had the feel of a festival, pep rally and community salute to cancer survivors and those who have succumbed.
“I think it’s really an honor to walk with John D,” Krugman said of a community icon known for his year-round shorts and giving candy to young Spartan fans at Friday night football games. “He was as shocked as I was.”
Krugman said she planned to walk as many laps as she could Friday night and into Saturday morning, when the Relay concluded.
“I walk in honor of my dad,” a leukemia victim, she said.
Krugman, 58, has been a cancer survivor since 1979, when at 23 she was diagnosed with cervical and ovarian cancer and underwent a complete hysterectomy.
“They were going to do surgery right away, but I was six months pregnant,” she said. “They wanted me to have a therapeutic abortion, but I said no. My son was born a month early.”
David Krugman is now 33.
His mother was caring for her set of twins when she began to experience abdominal pain and fatigue beyond that usually associated with raising young children.
“I was only 23, but I had twins to take care of and I was always tired,” said Krugman, who convinced her doctors to let her rest in bed until her son was born.
Krugman said doctors speculated her cancer was associated with her mother having taken DES (Diethylstilbestrol, a synthetic form of estrogen) while pregnant with her daughter. The chemical has since been banned and has spawned a wave of legal action.
“They did a lawsuit and said I could make a lot of money (by participating), but I said my mother had me and I’m here,” Krugman said, more than adequate compensation.
Five years ago, Krugman was diagnosed with jaw cancer, which could also have its roots in DES. The cancer was found when an oral surgeon was extracting teeth and saw that her jaw bone was black.
After two serious bouts with the disease, Krugman is vigilant and returns for periodic checkups. But the former Shirkey Nursing and Rehabilitation Center certified nurse’s aide exudes a defiant, even combative nature.
“I guess I’m too ornery to go,” she said.
Thompson, a retired Teamster/dock hand, is known around Richmond as the courthouse custodian who wears coaches’ shorts year-round. The all-weather shorts, indoors and out, are a symbol of strength and toughness, something Thompson’s needed since his first cancer was diagnosed on June 4, 2007.
“I was never sick a day in my life and then in 2007 I started having high fevers and we couldn’t figure out what it was,” said Thompson, who was diagnosed with a sarcoma tumor in the back of his left leg. “I was healthy as a horse all my life.”
The diagnosis came on a Thursday. A surgeon removed the large tumor and surrounding tissue on Monday.
“They didn’t waste any time on it,” he said.
Thompson underwent 33 radiation treatments, and says since the sarcoma was in soft tissue rather than bone his prognosis is good.
“There’s less than a five percent chance it’ll come back,” said the man Spartan football fans call “The Candy Man” for his generosity at games. “I go every year to see if it went anywhere.”
But during a routine prostate exam on April 18, 2012 – remembering cancer diagnosis dates is a thread among survivors – Thompson’s doctor found reason to perform a biopsy. The test came back positive for cancer and he was given a choice of radiation treatments or surgical removal.
He opted for surgery, which involved six incisions and removing the diseased gland and surrounding tissue. The operation lasted more than four hours and took its toll on Thompson’s characteristic resilience and energy.
“The first cancer was a picnic compared to this one,” he said.
John and Royetta Thompson, his wife, have been regulars at Relay for Life, having once completed 142 laps – 30-plus miles – around the Richmond High School track. The track was the Relay site until this year, when it was moved to the square for an injection of new energy.
Although it’s John who’s twice experienced cancer and survival, Royetta’s family has a history with the disease. She said she lost a sister in December to bone cancer and her mother in 1994 to breast cancer and a brain tumor.
Their combined histories are a good reason in themselves to practice preventive medicine.
“If we have any suspicious moles or anything, we go and have them checked,” Royetta said.
Royetta said her husband has mentioned considering retirement, but even as he approaches his 70th birthday in August there’s the impetus to keep working.
“I don’t like to set,” John D. said. “I’ve been working ever since I was 12. I’m always doing something. Something will kill me quicker than work will.”