Billings Man Celebrates 15th Survivor Lap at Relay for Life

Click here or on photo below to view Q2 News story on Wes Carahasen.

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Wes and Lori Carahasen, of Billings, have been participating in Relay for Life of Yellowstone County for the past 25 years.

“Lori has been an oncology nurse for nearly 30 years, so we’ve always been involved with Relay for Life. It’s an event that is all about hope, inspiration and sadness,” Wes pointed out. “The survivor lap and luminaries have always had a big impact on me.”

In September of 2003, cancer hit home for the Carahasens. Wes was diagnosed in 2003 with a rare form of lymphoma — just six months after his father passed away from another form of lymphoma. Wes’ cancer occurred under his right eye socket.

“At first I put it off. I noticed my eye was red, but I could still see so I didn’t think much of it. However, it was becoming bulgy so I went to see my primary care doctor. He identified it as something serious right away and I soon learned it was cancer.”

Wes underwent treatment at St. Vincent Cancer Centers of Montana under the care of Dr. Ben Marchello. Wes endured radiation and chemotherapy treatments and was cancer free for a few years, but in 2006 it came back. It was treated again with radiation and chemotherapy, and he’s been in remission ever since.

“The fact that it came back really startled me,” Wes stated. “I’m grateful to have been cancer free for the past 13 years, but I certainly still have anxiety about it coming back. Fortunately things have worked out so far and hopefully I’ll be ok.”

Wes commends the exceptional care from the entire team, including his wife, at St. Vincent Cancer Centers of Montana.

“I really have to give kudos to the cancer center through all these years. When Dr. Marchello retired, I started seeing Dr. Marty Lucas – and she’s been wonderful. They’re all very skilled and I’m grateful for the care they’ve provided,” Wes said. “That said, I do have to credit my wife for being by my side through it all. Lori has been my 24/7 caregiver, support system and cheerleader.”

“No one deserves to be in that survivor lap,” Lori said. “But it’s a really special event for us. We plan our summer vacations around Relay for Life, so we can be there every year. It’s tradition.”

Relay for Life has always been a special event to the Carahasen’s, but Wes’ cancer diagnosis took it to a new level.

“Before I got cancer, I’d just watch the survivors lap and was so inspired by them. And then I became one of them,” Wes reflected. “I remember when I walked it the first time, my wife and two older boys were there watching. It was very emotional. I’ve been walking it ever since.”

This year, the entire Carahasen family was at Relay for Life to see him take that survivor lap for the 15th time.

“My three children are now grown and married with kids of their own, but they’re all going to be in Billings this year during the event. My 91-year-old mother, who lives in Hawaii, will be here too. It’s going to be really special. For the first time, my 11 grandchildren will see their ‘Papa’ walk the survivor lap,” Wes said with a smile. “I’m looking forward to it.”

The Carahasen Family proudly led Team St. Vincent during the team lap during the July 12 event.

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