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Ruth Ann Hodge of Island City is cancer free today after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. Hodge, who has lived in Union County for 46 years, is an organizer of this weekend’s annual Relay For Life event at the Eastern Oregon University track. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Union County resident now cancer free after long struggle with breast cancer
Seven years ago Ruth Ann Hodge of Island City saw what she feared was the concluding chapter of her life story on the horizon.
Fortunately, the end she perceived was actually a beginning, the start of a inspiring story that is continuing to touch the lives of others.
Hodge, who has lived in Union County for 46 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006.
“I was devastated. I was afraid of what the outcome would be,” Hodge said.
Today, seven years after surgery, she is cancer free, a whirlwind of energy, a picture of health and one who plays for the Blue Mountain Old Time Fiddlers. She is an example of what modern medicine, a positive attitude and the unwavering backing of friends and family can do for someone.
Hodge is a symbol of hope. Hope is what this weekend’s annual Relay For Life in La Grande, of which Hodge will be a part, is about.
“I want people to know that there is a big reason for hope,” Hodge said. “We need to celebrate people who are fighting back.”
The 17-hour event is an overnight celebration of life dedicated to current and former cancer patients and their families and raises money for life-saving programs sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
The relay starts at 4 p.m. Saturday and will run through 9 a.m. Sunday at the Eastern Oregon University track.
“It is not a race. It is a celebration of life, remembering those who have fought back against a disease,” Hodge said.
Hodge will again be playing a big role in helping run and organize the event. The event’s annual survivor dinner is among the projects she is actively involved in. The dinner, which will be served in a tent, is for cancer survivors and their caregivers and begins at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday, right after the opening ceremonies and the beginning of the relay.
The survivor dinner is always a highlight of the relay for Hodge.
“It is just awesome,” she said.
Despite being cancer free for the last seven years, it’s only been the last two years that Hodge has felt her best because of the rigors of follow-up therapy.
“I feel good and really blessed,” Hodge said.
Hodge received 34 radiation treatments in the years following her surgery. She also took tamoxifen, a drug for breast cancer patients, for five years. Tamoxifen had side effects that kept Hodge from feeling her best.
She refused to let the side effects get the best of her, however.
“On the days I was down, I tried to stay positive and give back to others,” Hodge said.
Hodge believes so strongly in the importance of Relay For Life that she was an active participant in it even when she was receiving follow-up therapy. She was a member of two relay teams during this time.
“I stayed up most of the night both times,” Hodge said.
She finds herself tired at the end of each relay but also invigorated.
“It is a wonderful time. It is a wonderful uplifting time,” Hodge said.
Hodge credits much of her recovery to the remarkable support she received from family and friends. The friends she speaks of today are more numerous than when she was diagnosed in 2006. Many of her new friends are survivors she met during previous Relay For Life events.
“It is a wonderful time to be with others,” she said. “I feel like the people I’ve met at the relay will be my friends and sisters forever.”
One of the best parts of the relay for Hodge is the opening lap when she walks clasping the hands of her supportive husband, Dexter, and those who have reached out to her.
“It rejuvenates you. It gives you hope,” Hodge said.
Survivors like Hodge have compelling stories to share. Hodge said that deciding to share her story with others not long after she was diagnosed yielded a surprising result.
“I wasn’t aware of how many of my friends had had cancer until I shared my story,” she said. “They opened up and shared their stories. Sometimes it was very emotional.”
Today she wants to get others to discuss what in the minds of some is a taboo subject.
“I (became involved in events like Relay For Life) because I want people to be able to talk about cancer and how it affects their families,’’ Hodge said.
A portion of the relay is about natural symbolism, according to Jody O’Connor of Kennewick, Wash., a community relationship manager for the American Cancer Society, who helps put on the Relay For Life in La Grande. O’Connor noted that participants have reason to be inspired by seeing the rising morning sun after running and walking in the dark. She said the night represents the challenge of cancer and that “… the light in the morning is a healing light.”
Hodge said the relay has helped her appreciate this healing light.
“It helped me turn fear into hope,” she said.
Contact Dick Mason at 541-786-5386 or