BILLINGS – For Wes and Lori Carahasen of Billings, the Relay for Life of Yellowstone County is a 22-year tradition to support cancer patients.
“Our involvement with the Relay for Life started as a result of Lori being an oncology nurse at the cancer center,” said Wes Carahasen.
The family always used the relay as a time to show support for Lori’s patients and their friends in the community, who were facing the difficult road of cancer treatment and recovery.
“It’s such a beautiful experience of our community coming together,” said Lori. “Their courage, their dignity, is really inspiring to all of us.”
For Wes, the emotional survivors lap always stuck with him.
“Watching them – it was inspiring,” said Wes. “When I looked in their faces, there was hope.”
But the event would soon take on a new meaning for the Carahasens.
“Little did I know I was going to be a participant in the survivor lap,” said Wes. “In 2003, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma…it was a rare form of lymphoma.”
The cancer was a tumor below Wes’ right eye. After treatment at St. Vincent Cancer Centers of Montana, Wes went into remission. But in 2006, the cancer came back.
Thankfully, after a second round of treatments, Wes went into remission again. He has been cancer free ever since.
“I found myself in remission and participating in the survivors lap and it was a whole new meaning for me,” said Wes. “I started thinking about how I watched people – survivors…And now I am being looked at as a survivor and I was really grateful for that.”
Since Wes’ diagnosis, the Carahasens have not missed a relay, and this year Wes will walk in his 15th survivors lap. Even their family vacations are planned around the event, with family coming in from all over the country to support Wes.
“Since then I’ve been blessed with 11 grandchildren, and that’s what makes it exciting for me to say ‘you’re a survivor’,” said Wes.
This year’s event will be extra special for the family. It’s the first time all of the kids, grandkids and even Wes’ mom, who flew in from Hawaii, will be at the relay together to celebrate his recovery.