A month after being declared cancer-free for a full year, Julie Crayton and her fiancé Kelly Shaft will start a new life together Saturday.
On that day, in Florence, the Masonic Advance Lodge 114 will be offering free cancer screenings. She encouraged people to attend.
“I never thought I would get cancer,” she said.
Crayton described the growth she found on her throat in late 2013 as being like cauliflower. After several doctor visits, she received a biopsy in McPherson and was diagnosed in December 2013 with tonsil cancer.
“The word ‘cancer’ is a really scary word,” she said. “A lot of things go through your head. At first I was in denial, I just acted like it was nothing.”
She said that changed when she went to see her doctor, where they discussed treatment options.
Crayton would receive radiation therapy treatment every day for seven weeks, with weekly chemotherapy treatments. The radiation left burns on her throat. She said she could not eat solid food for months and couldn’t consume hot or cold food — everything had to be at room temperature, she said.
“I thought, ‘Oh, it’s tonsils, so they can go in and just yank them out,’” she said. “The doctors said by doing a surgery the cancer could actually spread.”
By the end of her treatments, she had lost 45 pounds.
According to www.cancer.org, the five-year survival rate for tonsil cancer is 66 percent. Crayton said she didn’t fear for her life during her fight with the disease.
“I knew the good Lord was gonna get me through it,” she said. “He has our path laid out for us.”
Throughout her treatment, Crayton said, Shaft was there for her whenever she needed.
“To go through all that with me, to be there every step of the way, I know I’m marrying my best friend, my soulmate,” she said. “He’s done so much for me.”
Crayton also pointed to the community support, which she said was overwhelming. She’s a custodian at Marion Elementary School, and said she could not believe the support the school gave her.
“Anybody who thinks they’re going to go through cancer alone, no,” she said. “I know that living in a small town, the support I got from the community was amazing.”
She said she and Shaft have been together for five years, and have “decided to make it legal.” She has been divorced for 20 years; she said her ex-husband died of cancer. Shaft, meanwhile, has never been married before. Crayton joked that he’s more anxious for the wedding than she is.
After going through a bout with cancer, she’s just happy to be alive and in love.
“It’s a huge victory for me,” she said. “Huge.”