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A Message of Hope At Breast Cancer Awareness Event

Photo by Janice Kiaski Leslie Aftanas, left, and Janet Sharpe, right, are co-chairs of the Women In Action Against Cancer Coalition of Jefferson County, which sponsored its annual breast cancer wreath ceremony at Jim Wood Park. Ralph Knight offered “A Husband’s Story” as part of the event, reflecting on the death of his wife, Kelli.

STEUBENVILLE — Thursday would have been Kelli Knight’s 61st birthday, a day her husband would have gladly celebrated with her.

Instead, it was the annual breast cancer wreath ceremony conducted by the Women in Action Against Cancer Coalition of Jefferson County.

Ralph Knight recalled his wife’s battle with cancer as the speaker at the informal event held at Jim Wood Park.

“She would have wanted me to be here,” Knight told the small group assembled in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The ceremony traditionally includes as its main speaker a breast cancer survivor who shares her cancer story and journey, but this year brought a twist with “A Husband’s Story” instead.

Coalition Co-chair Janet Sharpe extended the welcome and made introductions, including Knight’s. “We lost two of our members last year. Both of them are still very dear in our hearts, and one of their husbands decided he would talk to you about what it was like to go through breast cancer with his wife, not once, but twice.”

“It was a long battle,” said Knight, who attended the coalition event with son, Zac, and daughter-in-law Nicolette. Kelli was 59 when she died Sept. 28, 2019, and had breast cancer in 2014 and again in 2018.

Kelli had been diagnosed with a small lump, he said, which ultimately spread to her lymph nodes.

“She had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, and 18 months after that, she was declared NED,” he said of the acronym that stands for “no evidence of disease.”

“Things started to look up,” he said. “She started to get back to herself. We had always planned to go to Alaska so we did make it in 2017,” he said.

A checkup about a year after that brought the discovery that the cancer had returned.

“It had spread to her liver and throughout her lymph nodes,” he said. By May 2019, they learned the cancer had spread to her brain, “so they stopped chemo and started radiation.”

But the cancer advanced.

“It was a downhill slide from there,” Ralph said.

“During the last months of Kelli’s life, we both knew she was dying. We never said that out loud, but we both knew.

After the ceremony, Knight said, “As a husband, when you get married, you’re supposed to provide for and protect your wife and you get to a point with cancer where you can’t do anything. You can still provide, but you can’t protect her, and you’re helpless. You feel useless.”

The Women in Action Against Cancer Coalition helps women who need financial assistance get breast and cervical screenings and helps with funding for free prostate screenings during Minority Health Month.

“Our breast cancer wreath ceremony is our favorite project, and this year we have gone back to our roots. We started this project on the steps of the courthouse in 1994 and after several moves found a home at Prime Time. Due to COVID, we are once again outside,” she said.

The coalition of 28 welcomes new members, the only qualification needed being a willingness to help, she said. It meets the first Wednesday of the month at noon at Trinity East’s cafeteria conference room. For information on the coalition or its services, contact Sharpe at (740) 632-1144.

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