Gage County Relay for Life raises money and awareness

Ron Cullison has overcome two serious medical conditions in his lifetime, but likes to think he had some help getting where he is today from his daughter, Erica.

Erica was eight years old when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in the early 1980s.

“It turned our world upside down,” Cullison recalled. “She was so brave and courageous it was unbelievable. She taught me more about life than any person walking the face of the Earth.”

The family took Erica to Philadelphia for treatment that gave her a few more months with her family before she passed away.

“She had one goal in mind, and that was until her last day on earth, her goal was to get better,” Cullison said.

While Erica was receiving treatment, Cullison was called on by doctors to help his daughter. He was willing to help, though the decision came with consequences Cullison would have to live with for the next 30 years.

“Her platelet count was low so they asked me to donate platelets to her to keep her strong for her next treatment that she was going to have,” he said. “For some reason they had some dirty equipment there and I contracted Hepatitis C… I lived with it for 30 years and took a lot of different treatments. Some of them had terrible, terrible side effects, but just like Erica, my goal was to get better.”

Cullison had the condition under control after years of living with it before a new drug, Harvoni, cured him of Hepatitis, though the celebration was short lived.

“A few weeks later they told me they found a tumor on my liver,” Cullison said. “It was kind of ironic to finally get rid of this disease I’d battled for 30 years and then be told I had a liver tumor.”

But if you ask Cullison about the experience, he’ll tell you that Erica never stopped watching over him. He’ll also tell you it wasn’t a coincidence when the call came last July letting Cullison know doctors found him a liver.

“On a Sunday night, July 23, 2017 – which just ironically is my daughter’s birthday, she was up in heaven looking up at her dad – I was called and they told me I had a liver,” he said. “We beat feet for Omaha and at 5 o’clock the next day I went in for surgery and had my new liver.”

Nearly a year later, Cullison said his recovery has gone incredibly well. He was out of the hospital in half the time doctors expected.

Cullison’s story is one of faith, persistence and hope, but it’s far from the only story related to battling cancer.

Cancer is a disease that touches nearly every life in one way or another, and thousands contributed to the Gage County Relay for Live event Saturday to share their stories and show support.

Visitors purchased luminaria that lined a walking track at the Gage County Fair Grounds, where organizers hoped to surpass $1 million in donations for the American Cancer Society during the 21 years the event has been held in Gage County.

Team lead Corinne Koch said the event is an emotional fundraiser where people recognize those who have dealt with cancer.

“I think the survivor walk and the luminaria ceremony, those two are probably the highlights and more emotional parts of relay,” she said. “Everybody has been touched by cancer some way or another. We just need to have people come out and support survivors. There’s hundreds and hundreds of luminaries that are in memory or honor of someone.”

For Cullison, it’s great to see so many people support Relay for Life. Though he believes his biggest supporter is someone who couldn’t be there in person.

“I don’t think it’s by coincidence that I got the call for a new liver on Erica’s birthday,” he said. “I always felt that she was sitting on my shoulder and the thing that made it easier with the transplant. I just took comfort thinking she’s with me.”

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