A local police cadet has gone from a Relay for Life supporter to cancer survivor this year, and now has a new viewpoint and a closer connection to the anti-cancer cause.
Longtime Relay for Life supporter and Newport Beach Police Department cadet Justin “J.J.” Edson, 21, completed his final day of chemotherapy Thursday and will walk the survivors lap at the 2011 Newport Beach Relay for Life on Saturday.
“Pretty much from the day I got diagnosed, my most shocked and scared moment, my focus was to get to this relay. …Getting to participate in the Relay for Life as a survivor was important,” Edson said. “It kept me going, it was my goal.”
In March, he was diagnosed with a baseball-sized seminoma germ cell tumor between his heart and sternum. The nine weeks of chemotherapy worked out just right so he would be done just before the relay.
The fundraising and awareness event for the American Cancer Society will start at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Newport Harbor High School track. Edson will give a speech titled, “No One Fights Alone,” about the importance of a support system of friends, family, co-workers and cancer survivors.
“My involvement with the American Cancer Society started as a volunteer and not as a survivor, but (now) I share an even greater passion for this cause and for life,” Edson said. “One day a year we get together to walk as a community for 24 hours to show our support and to spread hope into the hearts and minds of those warriors who are fighting or who have fought against cancer. Above all is the commitment to find a cure.”
Edson, who has lived in Newport Beach for about 12 years, first started with Relay for Life in 2008 as part of the NBPD Explorer team. In 2009, he joined the event committee as a volunteer coordinator.
As an explorer, he volunteered more than 2,000 hours of community service and received the Presidential Service Award in 2008 and the Gold Award from the Orange County Law Enforcement Explorer Advisor Association.
He was in the explorer program for four years, serving two as captain, before becoming a paid police employee as a cadet last summer.
He had plans to attend the Reserve Academy in August to be a part time police officer while he earned his master’s degree in business administration at the University of Redlands.
Just days before his diagnosis he had signed up to be on the 911 Blue Crew, the NBPD Relay for Life team, his first time participating in the event as a police employee.
The tumor was discovered after he started running and working out to prepare for the academy. He felt pressure in his chest the morning after one of his runs, he said, so he visited the doctor and got a CT scan.
On March 10, which Edson remembers as a warm Thursday morning, he received the news that they had found a mass in his chest, just above his heart.
“I was blown away,” he said. “It was very traumatic in the beginning.”
After meeting with his oncologist, learning what kind of tumor it was and creating a plan of action, Edson said he felt more positive.
“I slowly adjusted,” he said.
The following day he was taken to the emergency room because of breathing complications and ended up spending five days in the hospital having tests done.
He learned that the running caused his lungs to expand, which irritated and inflamed the tumor, causing the pressure and pain Edson felt.
As the news spread he received an enormous amount of support from not just his friends and family, but co-workers from the police department, Relay for Life members and even strangers who heard about his story.
“This support has been above all the best weapon I could have asked for,” Edson said.
He is very grateful to the support he has received from the police department he said, and is honored to work with them.
“(They’re) a very supportive group of people. From the chief to the cadets, everyone is amazing,” he said. “It’s a great group of people to have around you when you’re going through something this tough.”
An x-ray last week showed doctors that the tumor had shrunk dramatically, Edson said, but a CT scan in a few weeks will be more detailed. At that point, doctors will decide whether to recommend surgery, more chemotherapy or just further monitoring.
“Chemo wears you down,” Edson said. “It’s all about keeping your spirits up.”
Talking with others in chemotherapy and who had already been through it helped a lot, he said. Emotionally, it gets better and better, he said, with the kindness and support from others.
“I do not seek recognition for my situation,” Edson said. “I simply want to reach out because, to many, cancer seems to be treated as a private matter and I believe in sharing the awareness and support.”
He wants to be there for others who need advice or help
“I want to offer support, give others someone to talk to,” Edson said. “I want to be an example (to show) that no one has to go through it alone.”
For more on the Relay for Life, read Lynn’s Spin.