Jimmy Bouterse found a corner booth at the local downtown Warsaw diner where his walker would be out of people’s way. It was a booth also away from the hustle and bustle of the busy counter area where the locals clinked their coffee mugs and chatted about current affairs and the weather.
“Since the cancer, my voice isn’t very strong,” he told me. “But more people are surviving cancer than ever before, and I am one of them.”
Now 7 years in remission from Stage 4 Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Bouterse is among the nearly 14 million cancer survivors. But his journey has not been an easy one.
After 28 years as a truck driver and nearly 3 million miles logged, Bouterse suffered a stroke while driving his truck on I-65 near Lafayette in November 2005. “Nobody was hurt,” he said, “so that was a good thing.” But it was the start of his medical problems that plague him still today.
Three months after the stroke, Bouterse went to his doctor seeking treatment for a sore throat. “He put me on an antibiotic. When I went back 9 days later and the antibiotic didn’t work, he sent me to an ear, nose and throat doctor. They took me to the hospital that day and told me I was having surgery tomorrow,” he recalled. “He said I had Stage 4 cancer and to get my affairs in order.”
Bouterse said he quit smoking 9 years before his diagnosis.
Following surgery to remove some of the cancer, Bouterse underwent aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments for the next 10 months. Today, now 7 years later, Bouterse is reminded of the cancer daily. “I don’t have the saliva like other people,” he explained. “My voice is scratchy and I have emphysema too.”
He is on oxygen full-time and, because of blackouts and seizures that he explained is the result of a childhood head injury, he lost his driver’s license several years ago. Bouterse said, “It’s a big loss of freedom, but I still feel I have something to give back to society, that’s why I do Relay For Life.”
Bouterse serves as the media chairperson for the Kosciusko County Relay For Life event. “I’m living proof that this disease is survivable, but there is still more work to be done to ensure everyone diagnosed with cancer celebrates more birthdays.”
From 3 p.m. Saturday, May 17, to 9 a.m. Sunday, May 18, the Kosciusko County Relay For Life will take place with musical entertainment, games for children, a Luminaria Ceremony in honor and memorial of those with cancer and those who lost their battle, a silent auction, birthday parties and dance parties, duct tape fashion shows, scavenger hunt and lots of opportunities to win prizes.
All proceeds raised during the 18-hour Relay For Life event will go to the American Cancer Society and their research programs and local services that provide assistance and support to cancer patients and their families.
All week long, we will be providing information about this weekend’s Relay For Life. Anyone who would like to make a donation for a luminaria bag in honor or in memory of someone touched by cancer, call Bouterse at 574-265-7910, Deb Fitzsimmons at 574-527-2404, or Juliana Newbill at 574-257-9789. Luminaria bags will also be available the day of the relay. The Luminaria Ceremony will begin at 10 p.m. Saturday, May 17.