By Per Peterson
As a child, Sandy Fultz was somewhat of a rock connoisseur. She would collect them, store them in a shoe box and enjoy them as often as she could.
“I’m pretty sure my mom questioned if my head was full of rocks, but, of course, that never stopped me from collecting them,” Fultz said in her address at last Thursday’s Lyon County Relay For Life event at Independence Park in Marshall.
Today, rocks carry a far more special meaning to Fultz, and as the Lyon County Relay for Life’s 2020 “Ambassador of Hope,” she shared exactly what that means to friends, family and fellow cancer survivors.
Fultz was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March 2019 and is in remission. Her goal since her diagnosis was not just to survive the disease, but educate others about ovarian cancer and help people dealing with their hair loss through her Styling Cancer website, which showcases various outfits and styles, including headwear, for cancer survivors to wear with confidence.
“My goal has always been to help that one person,” Fultz said. “It may not sound like much, but if you’re that person
who needs it that day, it means the world.”
Using rocks as a metaphor, Fultz put her unique perspective on her own cancer journey. She said everyone’s journey is different, but each is a rocky road. First, she held up a large, heavy rock to illustrate the daily burden cancer can have on a person.
“It’s heavy and is a burden,” she said, holding up a large rock. “This rock reminds me of what it’s like to receive a cancer diagnosis. Carrying around this rock, day by day, becomes exhausting. There’s so much information at first, each day it feels heavier and heavier, and each morning you wake up and think … oh, I have cancer now.”
Fultz then held up another rock — a piece of the larger one — to show how cancer survivors learn to deal with their plight.
“It’s edges are rough and ragged, kind of like how you feel after surgery, or going through whatever treatment is needed,” she said. “Even your day-to-day tasks become a challenge at times and gosh, you are tired. You try to be what the rock is — strong, stable, but the jagged edges tell a different story.”
Fultz said getting through cancer meant relying on her faith in God and the support of her community, family and friends. Eventually, she hit her remission stage and reached a point where she tried to go back to her normal life — a smaller piece of the rock.
“It’s just a sliver of what you started with, but it’s a little more manageable,” she said. “It still doesn’t quite fit in your pocket; it’s a little uncomfortable, but you make it work. This is what your first few months of remission look like.”
That time in her life, she said, was a great period of adjustment, even though she felt blessed to have reached the remission stage. Part of you, she said, still feels the rock in your pocket. She said lingering fears, even through remission, makes one feel like they’re between a “rock and a hard place,” but letting any fears come to the surface is the cornerstone for healing.
Continuing her theme, Fultz said it’s important to be a rock for others who need to talk about their cancer story. This is her “heart rock,” which represents the love and support that has been with her every day.
“There comes a time in your journey when you realize you no longer look at the stone as representing your cancer, but instead it represents your strength,” she said. “If you think a small rock can’t be strong, think about what a small rock can do when it’s rolling around in your shoe.”
Fultz said a cancer survivor’s rock can represent one’s faith, family, friends, community, health care team and groups like the American Cancer Society.
“You can still feel the rock, but it’s more of a reminder of how far you’ve come with the support of so many,” she said. “Yes, the journey of cancer is a rocky road, but with everyone’s support, each rock becomes a stepping stone. When it comes to being a survivor, well, I know we are all going to rock that.”
Fultz said she feels honored to be chosen to represent fellow cancer survivors as the 2020 “Ambassador of Hope.” She said her “rock” speech came to her while she was preparing for her son, Brian’s wedding earlier this summer.
“They had already asked me to do this, and I saw that rock,” she said. “It just made me think about it, and as I went along, the story just kind of developed in my head.”
Fultz was recognized last year, but because there was no live Relay For Life event, she wasn’t able to speak in person.