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57 || Liz Hurley – Survivor and Champion

When she walks into a room, people stop and look. They can’t help it. Standing at a statuesque six feet and one inch, the beautiful blonde has an aura about her that commands attention.

The more I talked with her, the more I realized where that aura comes from. It generates from a sense of self-purpose, self-awareness, and confidence. It comes from a deep care for other people and the community that she lives in and loves. It comes from her genuine interest and curiosity about what is around her – the deeper meaning, the hidden story. And it comes from an unquenchable thirst for life – an appreciation for what matters most.

Yes, that’s how I would describe Liz Hurley. However, there is one very important description that I left out and that is survivor. More specifically, she is a breast cancer survivor.

Many in the community know Liz Hurley. She is a familiar face on the local news station WAFF48 news. She has many accomplishments under her belt including several journalist awards and the distinguished opportunity to anchor for the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996. Raised in Florida, the Lord knew that Liz needed to be a part of the Huntsville, Alabama community. Through a series of events, most of them not lining up with her original ideas of how her life should go, He brought her here. Liz is honored to be a part of the culture here. She feels very strongly about the people in this town and celebrates the fact that “she grew where she was planted.”

Breast Cancer was not a foreign concept to Liz whose own mother was diagnosed with it at the age of thirty. Six years later, Liz, who was only twelve at the time, lost her mother to that battle. It had a profound impact on her in so many ways, one of which was the development of a unique diligence toward her prevention and early detection efforts to ward of the fatal disease. Against doctor’s recommendations, she started annual mammograms at the age of 26. She had two small children, so she wasn’t going to take chances.

Her diligence and her awareness paid off one summer day in 1998. Not feeling well and thinking that a shower would help perk her up and get her ready for her afternoon newscast, she attempted to wash away her yucky feelings. While soaping up, she felt it: that lump on her breast – her left breast, the same area her mom had discovered hers. Throwing on her clothes, she rushed to her doctor’s office and knocked on the door. It was the beginning of the biggest story of her life.

Under Attack

Thrown into a whirlwind of emotion and activity, doctor appointments, specialists, and recommendations, Liz was presented with two choices: she could pursue the traditional treatment for her breast cancer of surgery and then chemotherapy or she could pioneer a new path – one of chemotherapy first with surgery to follow, technically called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy. Back in 1998, the chemo first path was a revolutionary step in treatment of cancer with little evidence of its benefits.  The unknown proved scary to Liz, but she knew that decisions needed to be made and they needed to be made fast. Her cancer was aggressive, and no matter what path she chose, the sooner she got started the better her prognosis would be.

Education empowered her. She sought out specialists. She read medical journals. She learned about as much as the doctor knew. She developed into her own advocate and best ally. She became educated on cancer, researching the latest information and treatments. Even to this day, she stays well-informed to the extent that I would describe her as a walking encyclopedia of cancer knowledge. This education was her greatest weapon in the fight to beat it. Besides, you must know your enemy in order to defeat it.

But the question was still begging to be answered at the proverbial fork in the road. What road should she take? Should she take the traditional recommended route—surgery first and then chemo –like her mother did, or should she pioneer that new path – the path of chemo to shrink the tumor and then surgery.

In a situation littered with land mines, she was desperate not to make the wrong decision. With two small children at home and having experienced the loss of her own mother to such eerily similar circumstances, she was terrified of the consequences.

The Sign

Caught in a tug of war between her brain and her heart, she prayed for a sign. She knew that she had to make a decision soon. The doctors had given her a deadline to decide. Her heart and mind and almost everything in her were leaning toward having the chemo first. It just made sense to her that she do the opposite of what her mom had done. Still, she hesitated.

Despite receiving many unsolicited calls encouraging her to do the chemo first, she still found herself wishing and asking God for that blinking neon sign. One evening, Liz headed out with her family to Mr. Gatti’s Pizza to a birthday party for her son’s 8-year-old friend. (Even with cancer, life was still going on and she was still mama.) In the middle of that party, a violent thunderstorm erupted. After the storm calmed down, the family found themselves back in their car viewing the light streaming through the clouds.

At that moment, Liz looked up into the sky and saw it – a double rainbow to which she exclaimed, “Well, that’s a pretty good sign!” But if that wasn’t good enough, she swears (and so does her husband) that the double rainbow actually led them to their house and ended in their driveway. Not being one to exaggerate the details given her journalist background, her explanation of God’s display of grace in her life left goose bumps on my arms.

“If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.”

Through it all, Liz kept her sense of humor. She described a parade for the “Drive for the Cure” event through the middle of town where she rode in a convertible with the Mayor Loretta Spencer of Huntsville at the time. She had just reached the point in her chemo treatments where they had warned her that she might start to experience hair loss. As it crossed her mind that she was sitting in a convertible with the wind blowing through her hair, she realized it might all just blow it off at any second. So, she warned the mayor with a laugh as Liz explains that “there are just some times when you have joke about your circumstance otherwise it can overwhelm you with its seriousness.”

Throughout her battle with cancer, which entailed chemotherapy and multiple surgeries (including a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction), Liz clung to the great God that she loved and served. Receiving the diagnosis of cancer definitely caused her to take a close look at the Lord and her beliefs. She leaned on scripture heavily, reciting Proverbs 3:5-6 to herself constantly: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Living Life Fully

Once you meet Liz, it’s undeniable that she cares deeply about the community and the people around her. Because she believes that God has kept her around for the purpose of helping others with her story and sharing her knowledge, she is the first to respond to someone who asks for help. She’ll go to visit people diagnosed with cancer and sit by their bedsides or just be that sounding board to offer them the advice and encouragement that they need to hear. “It’s all about the individual,” Liz explains.

People call her frequently: “Liz,” dead air, and then their story takes off. She always knows what that story will be and she loves the fact that people feel empowered to call her. She has a heart and a willingness to help them feel encouraged – to offer them some answers or that roadmap that they might be looking for.

“The beginning is overwhelming.” When you hear the words “you have cancer,” Liz describes the overwhelming fear and loneliness that can seem to engulf you. “The first news of cancer is always terrifying! My purpose is to be their champion.” The only requirement is that they first have to ask for my help; then I will come.”

Greater Perspective – Ultimate Purpose

Liz’s fight against cancer continues. Though she won her own battle against cancer, she recognizes that there is a war still raging. Her desire is to help others fight their battles and the community to wage the war at a larger level.

As Liz recovered from cancer, the community began to invite her to share her story with them. As a survivor, she started to speak at churches about her wrestle with breast cancer, receiving an abundance of donations in response. Even though she attempted to return or refuse the money on many occasions, the organizations urged her to keep it – ensuring her that one day she would know what to do with it.

Ultimately, as the stash of money donated to her began to grow, she knew that she had to make a decision on what to do with the funds. So, she approached the Huntsville Hospital Foundation to see if they would have an idea. With their help and encouragement, she was able to start a fund known today as the Liz Hurley Breast Cancer Fund.

Through much prayer and financial support of many amazing donors, they were able to support a project to construct and provide advanced diagnosis and testing equipment for the Huntsville Breast Cancer Center currently used in the Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children. Within ten years, the Liz Hurley Breast Cancer fund raised more than three million dollars and just this past December, the Madison Breast Center was able to open with the help of Liz’s fund.

But the movement traveled further. One day, the CEO of Huntsville Hospital suggested doing a run devoted to breast cancer. Liz was ecstatic. Nothing like that had been done and the idea was exciting and the possibilities were endless. Ultimately, this idea of a 5k would be responsible for bringing thousands of people from all different backgrounds and all types of stories together for a common goal – defeating cancer.

And so the Ribbon Run began in 2003.

More Than A Walk, Run Or Jog

The Liz Hurley Ribbon Run has been taking place every fall for nine years, and this year will be its tenth anniversary.  With the Men’s 5K, Women’s 5K, and Survivors Walk, all individuals touched by breast cancer in some shape or form are able to participate and be a part of the army fighting against breast cancer.

Within the sea of over 5,000 pink shirts, tutus, and painted bras are people who are not only running for their own cause, but for the cause of loved ones – living or lost. The emotions of that day can be overwhelmingly powerful. Liz’s story did more than she could have ever imagined when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. By giving her situation to God, Liz allowed Him to not only transform her heart and her perspective, but to use her to transform a whole city.

You can be a part of the fight against breast cancer too. Sign up for the tenth annual Liz Hurley Ribbon Run at www.lizhurleyribbonrun.org.

For more information about the Huntsville Hospital Foundation and the Liz Hurley Fund, please visit their website at http://foundation.hhsys.org. They have a complete listing of the amazing equipment and services that they have been able to provide through their fundraising efforts.[/cc_show_to]

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One Comment

  1. Oh Liz, years later your journey affects so many. I was diagnosed with HER2+ BC After finding a lump in 9/16. I’m a teacher. My Legacy faculty began praying and supporting right away as I was the third faculty member to have breast I cancer. I can’t even describe the emotions I felt as my VERY YOUNG co worker crossed the finish line FIRST. She told me it was hard, but she HAD to win for me. I pray that SHE nor her daughter will have to go through what we have been through.


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