Winter Garden honorary survivor ready for 2016 Relay

Debbie Thomas, Relay for Life of Winter Garden’s honorary survivor, has felt the care of God and others through her journey with cancer.

  • By
  • | 1:02 p.m. April 19, 2016
  • West Orange Times & Observer
  • Neighborhood
  • Share

OCOEE Twelve years ago, Debbie Thomas noticed things in her body just weren’t feeling right. She addressed some of the issues with her gynecologist, who began running tests. 

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it was going to be cancer,” Thomas said.

Thomas was diagnosed with stage 3 uterine cancer. Because of where the tumor was located, doctors were unable to do a hysterectomy. Instead, she endured rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and finally reached the remission stage.

For some, that’s the happy ending. But for Thomas — who was chosen as the honorary survivor for this year’s Relay for Life of Winter Garden — the battle was just beginning.


Seven-and-one-half years after Thomas’ first round with cancer, doctors found another tumor. And in the last two years, they have found two more. Thomas just completed chemotherapy treatment two weeks ago.

Throughout her long journey with cancer, Thomas said she has found strength in God. She attends Church at the Cross, where friends and fellow church members have shown their support for her. Thomas is the curriculum director at Primrose School of Ocoee, and her colleagues will join her in support at this year’s Relay.

“Even the support of Relay for Life — being around other survivors, doing the Relay for Life — I mean it’s very much an uplift when you’re going to it,” she said. 

The support of all these people has meant much to her as she went through cancer treatments and cared for her mother, who had dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and died less than two years ago. 

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said. “I know that the Lord is our healer, and it’s through the power of a lot of prayers.”

A woman at church once encouraged her that her attitude toward cancer — not allowing it to take over her life — could help her defeat it. And going to work every day helped her maintain that positive attitude, when she interacts with the children every day. 


At Relay for Life of Winter Garden, Thomas is moved by the Survivors Lap. The survivors start going in one direction, and the caregivers walk in the other. The two meet in the middle and finish the lap together.

“I’ve never seen that done before,” she said.

During the luminaria ceremony, all the lights shut off, except the lights glowing from the luminaries. The event falls silent to honor the survivors and the memories of those who died. It is also moving for Thomas, especially when she thinks of her friend whose mother recently died of breast cancer.

“It’s harder on the caregivers than it is on the survivors,” she said. “I mean, I never thought I would feel that way until I’ve seen that part of it.”


Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].



Latest News