For 14-year-old Cynthia Dumas, the only news worse than hearing she had leukemia was learning her age limited her chances of survival.
"You won't make it through college," she recalled the oncologist telling her. "You'll be lucky to graduate from high school."
Dumas, now 22, is set to graduate from UC Merced in 2011 with a degree in molecular biology . She has been in remission for eight years and off treatment for six.
Because of her high-risk status, the doctors were willing to try an experimental course of treatment that ended up saving her life.
"If I hadn't had that treatment, I wouldn't be here. If people didn't fundraise through the American Cancer Society (ACS), I would not be here," said Dumas, who participated in her first Relay For Life during her second year of chemotherapy. "There is no way for me to separate myself from that. Being involved with ACS is my way of giving back."
Three years in a row Dumas was awarded the Young Cancer Survivor Scholarship, which is given to survivors under 25 years old who are academically eligible and committed to volunteering in a leadership role. She was Survivor of the Year for the Marin County ACS unit and Volunteer of the Year in 2008.
This year, Dumas supports the event in her hometown of Los Banos as the online chair, and helps out in other communities when asked. Dumas is also the survivorship chair for the Merced Relay for Life, reaching out to cancer survivors in the Merced area.
"Patients in the Central Valley who need to travel for their oncology care have access to drivers through the ACS who volunteer their time to get them to their appointments," Dumas said. "Other available resources people often don't know about include gas cards for travel to appointments outside of the area, 24-hour phone access to trained nurses and educational and general information. I believe it is important for everyone to know what resources are out there for them."
Dumas is a local advocacy volunteer for the society's Cancer Action Network (CAN), the sister organization that lobbies the federal government for cancer prevention and treatment-related legislation.
"ACS CAN has lobbied for things like increases in tobacco taxes and coverage for mammograms," she said. "California Division Ambassadors are working on obtaining signatures for a petition to place a $1 tax on cigarette packs. Revenues from the tax would go to support various health research and tobacco related programs."
As she has done for the past six years, Dumas is busy juggling two Relay for Life teams. The Merced event is scheduled for April 24-25. The Los Banos one will take place May 22-23.
Dumas limits herself to 12 units a semester so she doesn't overwhelm herself. She's ended up sick in or in the hospital after she's taken 15 or 17 units. Nevertheless, she keeps a full calendar, even scheduling in driving time.
"Time management, that's how I do everything in my life," Dumas said. "And I've had to learn to say no to what drains me, so that I can say yes to what energizes, inspires and fulfills me."