Cancer survivors celebrate win over dreaded disease

Herald/Steven Doll - Ruth Vizcarrondo of Killeen talks with Deena Nieto-Jackson at the 2010 Relay for Life of Killeen, Fort Hood and Harker Heights Survivor Dinner Thursday at the Harker Heights Activity Center. Nieto-Jackson is the survivor chair for the organization.

By Mason W. Canales

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS - Cancer survivors filled the Harker Heights Activity Center Thursday for food, thoughts and to celebrate being cancer free.

"Our survivors are what we are here for," said Martha Green, Killeen, Fort Hood and Harker Heights Relay for Life survivor co-chair, to about 130 survivors, their caregivers and loved ones.

"This is the reason why we do this, for you," said Deena Nieto-Jackson, Killeen, Fort Hood and Harker Heights Relay for Life survivor, continuing with Green's words.

Cancer affects everyone from the young to the old, and both were represented in the room, Event Chair Blanca Vazquez said.

There is a 43-year cancer-free survivor who walks laps every year, and a young boy who was diagnosed with cancer as an infant who walks every year, Vazquez said.

The group enjoyed dinner before the guest speaker and cancer survivor Billie Hanna took center stage to share her story.

Hanna rallied the survivors by making them stand up, clap to a beat and sing to music.

"This is a party. This is a celebration," she said.

Hanna was diagnosed with breast cancer one year after her sister was, she said. Her sister taught her about self examination and made catching the cancer possible even after Hanna had a mammogram five months earlier.

Hanna's sister died six years after being diagnosed, she said.

Having cancer changed Hanna's life, she added.

"I am big on prevention because of my experience," Hanna said. "I strive to be positive."

Relay for Life is Hanna's way of giving back to the community that helped her survive, she said.

"I would like to cheer you on and see you at (the) relay," Hanna said. "Thirty-six days to Relay."

The Killeen, Fort Hood, Harker Heights Relay for Life starts at 7 p.m. April 30 and ends at 7 a.m. May 1 at Shoemaker High School.

Groups have already raised about $45,000 for the American Cancer Society, but the goal this year is $225,000, Vazquez said. There are also about 100 teams currently registered for the walk.

To donate or register a team, go to

Olive Garden, Harker Heights Florist, Bush's Chicken, H-E-B, NAACP, Promise Accents Inc., Tex Photo Service and the Youth Advisory Council all contributed to the Survivor Dinner.

Contact Mason W. Canales at or (254) 501-7554. Follow him on Twitter at KDHheights.

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