Paula Rabey admits it – she is a devoted Chuck Norris fan.
Ask Rabey about the anthology, from the TV show “Walker, Texas Ranger” to films like“The Delta Force” and “The Octagon,” and you will find yourself transported to mythical territory where martial arts celebrities can become show business heroes, inspire a generation – and even help you to win a battle against cancer.
Such is the story behind “Tough Like Chuck,” a team Rabey formed in 2007 to participate in a Relay for Life event sponsored by the American Cancer Society at Eastern Washington University. Just over a year earlier, Rabey had been told she had bladder cancer.
|Spokane Valley resident Paula Rabey (front row, fourth from left) will be on hand next Friday, June 11, for the Relay for Life event at East Valley High School along with her team “Tough Like Chuck.” Rabey is celebrating over four years as a cancer survivor. Photo by: Craig Howard
It was around that time that the real fight began – and family and friends discovered that Rabey was, in fact, tougher than Chuck.
Rabey’s daughter, Nikki, who was attending EWU when Paula was diagnosed, said her mom served as an inspiration for family and friends trying to process the news.
“We figured we weren’t going to be wimps about it if she wasn’t,” Nikki said.
Still – some four years after Paula had the initial biopsy revealing the cancer – the family has poignant moments that produce their share of tears. Next Friday, when “Tough Like Chuck” reconvenes for the Relay for Life at East Valley High School, Rabey will walk the ceremonial “Survivor Lap,” a tradition that never fails to generate a heartfelt response from participants and fans.
“My first survivor lap was very emotional,” Paula said. “It’s just a very uplifting atmosphere, being together with family and friends that are supporting you and supporting this cause.”
While the survivor lap is special, it has difficulty holding a candle to an occasion in the fall of 2006 after Paula had completed her last round of chemotherapy. An avid bowler, Rabey had returned to Players and Spectators in Spokane Valley for the first time in months. She was greeted with a surprise party that included her husband, Scott, and dozens of family members and friends. The highlight of the evening came when Paula was presented with a “Tough Like Chuck” scrapbook containing photographs and well-wishes from over 60 supporters.
“It was incredible,” Paula said.
The same summer Paula was going through chemotherapy, her son, Matt was being treated for meningitis. Matt is now married with a 19-month-old son, Jackson – Paula and Scott’s first grandchild.
Those who know her say Rabey approached chemotherapy with the same energy and optimism that propelled her through the entire battle against the disease.
“I had friends who would drop by with lunch and just chat,” she said. “You just have to make the best of it.”
One aspect of Rabey’s life that she did leave by the wayside after her diagnosis was tobacco. A longtime smoker, Paula gave up cigarettes for good and has never looked back.
“I really couldn’t say, ‘Why me?’ because a big factor in cancer is smoking,” she said.
Rabey also changed her approach to checkups and screenings, making sure to schedule regular appointments with her doctor and never letting a concern go untested.
“One thing I talk a lot about now is regular mammograms and physicals,” Paula said. “I never procrastinate anymore.”
The American Cancer Society reports that 85 percent of all cancer deaths could be prevented through early detection and a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, low-fat foods, fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding tobacco products. Those with a family history of cancer are advised to make screenings a special priority.
Paula has also donated time to the local fight against cancer by volunteering for Cancer Patient Care, a Spokane-based nonprofit group that provides support for low-income residents dealing with the disease. Along with helping out at the annual Loreen Miller Bike Ride, she and Scott have adopted families through CPC for several years, providing gifts during Christmastime.
Nikki, meanwhile, changed her career course following her mom’s experience. She has worked for CPC and attended national conferences as a local delegate for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. She is now back in school, working toward master’s degrees in social work and public administration.
“All of the sudden, I knew what I wanted to do,” Nikki said. “It’s a cause that is very close to my heart.”
On June 11-12, nearly 30 members of the “Tough Like Chuck” team will circle the East Valley track for 24 hours to raise money and awareness for a cancer cure. The group generated over $13,000 in its first year. As usual, Paula’s mother, June – a cancer survivor herself – will lead the way. At 80 years old, she still walks several miles a day.
“She’s a real fighter,” Nikki said.
Paula said the atmosphere at each relay continues to serve as an example of overcoming adversity. Others say survivors like her are the real inspiration.
“People always tell me I’m their hero,” she said. “But I don’t quite believe them.”
The same banner will fly over Rabey’s camp at East Valley next Friday – though some have wondered if it might be time to for the team to change things up.
Next year, the pennant could well read, “Tough Like Paula.”
Want to find out more?
To learn more about the prevention and treatment of cancer, visit the American Cancer Society Web site at www.cancer.org or call the 24-hour ACS toll-free support line at 1-800-227-2345. To find out more about Cancer Patient Care, call 456-0446 or visit www.cancerpatientcare.org.