Hillsboro nurse honors cancer victims

Staff reporter

Although Arlene Hett's immediate family has not experienced cancer, as a veteran nurse she has seen about every form of illness there is to see in a hospital.

But what continues to move her are cancer patients and their families. Particularly children with cancer.

"Cancer comes in different forms and children with cancer are the hardest for me," she said. "Their families go through tough times. They're my heroes."

Arlene has been a nurse most of her adult life, working 37 years at Hillsboro Community Medical Center and the past two years in the emergency room at Via Christi-St. Francis Campus, Wichita.

Her experience in the Hillsboro hospital, serving some of those years as director of nursing, has given her opportunities to know people in about every phase of cancer.

"When the hospital did surgery, I remember routine surgeries that resulted in cancer diagnosis," she said, which devastated the patients and their families. The rural hospital also was the setting for those in the final stages of cancer.

Arlene considers it an honor and a privilege to be with patients and their families during those last hours and minutes.

The soft-spoken caregiver admires those who have cancer and their families, which is why she participates in the annual Relay for Life of Marion County which supports the American Cancer Society.

"In honor of them, I walk all night (in the relay)," Arlene said.

The purpose of the relay, which is Aug. 1-2 at Marion High School Warrior Stadium, is to make the sacrifice of sleep and walk throughout the night in an effort to experience the darkest hour cancer patients go through. The morning sun symbolizes hope for recovery.

Arlene is the one many have seen who carries pennies in her pockets which she transfers from one pocket to the other.

Why the pennies?

It's simple, really. It helps her to keep track of the laps she has walked.

"When you're walking, you may visit with others and it's easy to lose track of the laps you've walked," Arlene said. She exchanges every 20 pennies for a quarter to simplify the math.

So, how many laps and miles does she usually walk?

The first year she participated she walked 13 miles or 62 laps (four laps equals one mile). The next year she walked 30 miles or 120 laps, and last year she walked 26 miles or 104 laps.

During the relay, Arlene takes particular notice of the luminaries which honor those who have survived the disease and those who have not.

"The luminaries are very moving. They bring back memories of those I've known who have had cancer," she said.

Arlene works 12-hour shifts at the Wichita hospital. During a 24-hour period, the ER treats 70-100 patients. A recent 24-hour period brought in 170 patients. Of those there are cancer patients who are seen because of difficulty with chemotherapy or other issues related to the disease.

For the registered nurse, cancer is never far away.

Two of Arlene and husband Alvin's four children are in the nursing profession. Son Kevin just graduated as a registered nurse and is seeking employment at a Wichita hospital. Daughter Suzanne also is an RN. The couple also have daughters Audrey and Julie.

When retirement time arrives for Arlene, she won't be quite ready to pack away her nursing shoes.

"I'm interested in hospice nursing," she said. "There is a real need for people who care about patients in the last stages of life."

And Arlene is one of those people who could do the job.

Relay had humble beginnings

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life began in May 1985, in Tacoma, Wash.

In the mid-1980s, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a Tacoma colorectal surgeon, wanted to enhance the donations of the local American Cancer Society office. He decided to personally raise money for the fight by doing something he enjoyed — running marathons.

Klatt spent a grueling 24 hours, circling the track at Baker Stadium at the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, for more than 83 miles. Throughout the night, friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. He raised $27,000. Nearly 300 of Klatt's friends, family, and patients watched that first year as the surgeon ran and walked the course.

During that marathon, Klatt envisioned how others could participate and thought of a 24-hour team relay event that could raise money to fight cancer. Months later, he pulled together a small committee to plan the first team relay event known as the City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer.

In 1986, 19 teams took part in the first team relay event and raised $33,000.

County effort

There is still time to sign up to participate in Relay for Life of Marion County. Contact Phyllis Kreutziger at (620) 382-2215, Jeri Klose at (620) 947-3717, or Janet Oursler at (620) 983-2853.

The event will be from 7 p.m. Aug. 1 to 7 a.m. Aug. 2 at Marion High School Warrior Stadium.