“My purpose and passion for Relay for Life is different today than it was in 2012,” shared Tabatha Vieira, the 2019 Polk County Relay for Life Caregiver of the Year.
“My initial experience with Relay for Life was to help raise money for our community with my teammates at The Mena Star. When I left the Mena Star, I was still an active participant and Team Leader at First National Bank and Bear State Bank. Yes, I had some family all the way back to my grandmother, and a friend, who have fought cancer, but it was during the Thanksgiving holidays in 2018 when it became close and personal. My mother, Linda, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer with mets to the brain, lymph nodes and adrenal gland,” shared Vieira. “Prior to my mom having cancer, I never realized the work that was required by being a caregiver. I’ve always been the ‘motherly type’ when taking care of my family and friends. But being a caregiver is really hard. I thought it was about just being around and being there for mom, but there is so much more than that. Over the past few months, I have come to realize that people do not get recognized for the amount of work it takes to be a caregiver. As a caregiver, we deal with lot of stress and appointments. There are mood swings and constant sickness from the treatments or the caner itself. As a caregiver, it sometimes feels like you also have cancer, and you have to fight the cancer. But, the caregiver has to be the stronger one. There have been many times that mom just wanted to give up. I had to be there to tell her to fight… that’s what we do. We help give them a reason to live and remind them what they have to live for. “
When questioned about the support that is given to caregivers, Vieira responded that there is a 24-hour hotline she can call as well as several Facebook groups. “We are constantly taking care of our love one, but we cannot forget to take care of ourselves. A valuable lesson I learned through this journey was to reach out and to talk with friends. Do not bottle up your feelings. I did that for two months and ended up on the door step of a friend sobbing uncontrollably You need to get out and talk out the frustrations. Do not continue to keep it to yourself.”
“Yes, the role of a caregiver is hard. It’s tiresome. But it is also rewarding when you see the good things that come from the experience. Relay for Life is no longer just a fundraiser to me. It’s about others like my mom getting the care and assistance they need … and giving them hope. When you go to the events, there is the survivor walk. That is a celebration. The day you find out you have cancer is the day you become a survivor. My mom did not want to take the lap, but I had to remind her that she was a survivor, and she fights daily to be one. Each day is a victory in their lives.”
When asked about the benefits of Relay for Life for Polk County, Vieira responded, “Of course, most of it goes to research; but, here are a couple of tangible things that help with immediate needs…Arkansas patients have received 414 nights of Arkansas lodging during medical trips and 404 rides rides to and from cancer related doc visits in Arkansas. For out of state lodging to facilities such as MD Anderson, 426 patients received 5,035 nights of lodging and 37 patients received 804 rides to and from cancer related doctor visits. Relay for Life allows the community to help others within their community,” shared Vieira.
“I am grateful for the support my mom and I have received over the past few months. I was honored by the recognition as Caregiver of the Year, but there are so many others who are worthy of the award,” Vieira concluded.
According to Vieira, the Polk County Relay for Life set a goal of $50,000; to date, more than $52,000 has come in since the Friday, May 17 event.