Relay For Life

While some 1,400 people walked throughout Saturday night and into early Sunday morning to support cancer survivors and those who were lost to the disease, Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa and his family quietly fought their own battle.

Arakawa’s daughter Jodi Arisumi recently tested positive for a recurrence of breast cancer.

“There’s really not a whole lot anyone can do with this,” Arakawa said in a phone interview Sunday, alongside his wife, Ann. “None of us can perform the operation or know what’s really going on, and all that indecision and not knowing is terrifying.”

Arisumi, who is in her 30s, was first diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in February 2012. Over the past two years she has undergone a few surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments and takes medication.

In April, tests showed a recurrence in a lymph node.

“It’s difficult to talk about,” Ann Arakawa said. “It’s very difficult for parents when your child is diagnosed with an illness such as cancer. We are doing the best we can and being very supportive of Jodi.”

Stage 2 breast cancer means that the disease is growing, but is “still contained in the breast or growth has only extended to the nearby lymph nodes,” according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation website.

Arisumi agreed to correspond with The Maui News via email, in order to increase cancer awareness on the island.

“No one wants to hear that you have cancer,” Arisumi wrote in an email Saturday. “While it is a very scary diagnosis, almost everyone has been touched by cancer somehow. It could be through a friend, relative, co-worker, neighbor or yourself who has had cancer or is currently going through treatment.

“The statistics are frightening, which is why events such as Relay For Life are so important in providing funding for cancer research, prevention, early detection and treatment.”

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Central and South Maui was held on the grass soccer field at the War Memorial Complex over the weekend. The fundraising event benefits the society, which helps fund cancer treatment and research.

Alan Arakawa spoke at the event but refrained from talking about his daughter and has asked for privacy as she fights the disease.

“Everyone is speculating, so being able to work through the situation is the most trying situation that anyone can have in someone’s entire life,” he said. “There’s a fear factor: You don’t know, you don’t have control and you don’t know what to do. You just have to be there to console each other.”

While the mayor is concerned for his daughter and her illness, he knows that “it’s not unique to the Arakawa family.”

“You have to realize there are other people going through the same kind of traumas on a daily basis,” he said. “There’s literally hundreds and hundreds of families at Relay For Life who are dealing with cancer.”

Ann Arakawa said attending the Relay For Life event and talking with others helped the couple cope with their daughter’s fight, and that their focus remains on her.

“She’s a very strong girl, and I think she’s just trying to help other families who are going through something similar to this,” Ann Arakawa said of Arisumi. “You need to be an advocate for yourself, and family members need to be there in support.”

Ann Arakawa encourages cancer patients to bring a notebook to their doctor visits and prepare questions ahead of time to become more knowledgeable about their particular illness. She added that patients should bring someone with them for overall support and to ask additional questions.

“But you have to have faith in your doctor,” she said.

Arisumi stressed to Maui residents and others that “cancer can happen to anyone at any age” and that people should get their body checked out as soon as possible if they feel that something is wrong.

“You know your body best,” she said.

Patients should not be afraid to ask questions about their care and treatment plan, and to find a team of doctors they trust, Arisumi said. She said she is thankful for the care she has received from her physicians and doctors, and staff at the Pacific Cancer Institute of Maui and Kapiolani Breast Center on Oahu.

“I would happily recommend them all to anyone who has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said.

Typically accompanied by her husband during doctor visits, Arisumi has counted on her friends, parents and sister, Jan, for support. She said their love has kept her positive in her fight against cancer.

“My new theory in life is to not sweat the small things and to be thankful for each day that I have,” she said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.