Relay for Life organizers Debbie Kenyon (right cen-ter) and Darcie Henriott (right) are pictured with Ken-yon’s daughter Jill Sisson, grandson Tyler Sisson, and husband Allen Kenyon. The sisters have been involved with Relay for Life for more than 20 years and will be featured as this year’s Honorary Survivors on Friday.

By Cameron Cronkite

Staff Writer

When a mammogram detected cancer in Debbie Kenyon’s left breast in 2001, she didn’t want to worry her family with the news.

Instead, the 55-year-old Darien woman found support in her then co-worker Allen Kenyon, who later became her husband. Debbie Kenyon said Allen gave her strength when she decided to keep her condition a secret from her family.

“I just didn’t want to put the burden on my mom,” Kenyon said. “She was having a hard time with the passing of her husband.”

Kenyon’s cancer, which was detected early, was treated with a month of chemotherapy, and Kenyon now does monthly checks.

She and her sister, Darcie Henriott, both longtime Relay for Life organizers, are the Honorary Survivors for this year’s Walworth County event, which will take place at the fairgrounds in Elkhorn on Friday.

Henriott, 49, of Elkhorn, was diagnosed with skin cancer in October 1999. She visited a dermatologist after discovering a mole on her neck that the doctor found to be benign. She also had a mole on her back biopsied, and the results came back as stage-one melanoma. She was referred to a plastic surgeon to remove the mole right away. The surgery was successful. She began monthly checkups immediately after, and has had nearly three dozen precancerous moles removed since.

“I still go for regular head to toe checkups,” said Henriott.

As Honorary Survivors, Henriott and Kenyon will share the stories of their battles and lead the opening lap at Friday’s Relay for Life. Walworth County Relay for Life Chairman Valerie Tribble said Kenyon and Henriott are largely “behind the scenes” people and modestly try to stay out of the spotlight regardless of all they have done for the Walworth County chapter of Relay for Life.

“They are very good-hearted people that would do anything for anybody,” Tribble said.

The sisters have been with the organization since 1994 as part of the Gafth family team after their stepfather died from lung cancer. Kenyon was approached by the committee chairman about getting more involved and she gladly accepted. Since joining Relay for Life, the sisters have become involved with many facets of the organization. They have been ambassadors for the county, being selected to represent Walworth County at a Relay convention in Washington, D.C.

“That was really neat, Debbie and I getting to go together and experience that,” said Henriott.

Kenyon is co-chairman of this year’s Walworth County event and team development chairman with the responsibility of recruiting teams. Henriott has been on the Midwest Relay for Life Advisory Team for five years, serving as a consultant for other Relay teams in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. She also has been doing sponsorships but “wanted to hold a low-key position this year,” she said, with her daughter, Morgan, graduating high school, and getting set to attend the University of Wisconsin–Platteville in the fall.

Despite their involvement, the sisters never intended to be named Honorary Survivors.

“We just didn’t feel like we should be the ones representing Walworth (County) this year. But we are very honored,” said Kenyon.

“We were going to suggest that my aunt JoAnn be the survivor,” said Henriott.

Several other members of the women’s family also have succumbed to or survived cancer.

Their stepfather, Dick Verba, died of cancer in 1994, and their father, Carl Raatz, beat prostate cancer in 2000. Kenyon’s daughter Jill Sisson, was diagnosed soon after with cervical cancer. They lost their aunt, Patsy Gleason, to liver cancer in 2010 and their cousin, Mike Anderson, to colon cancer in February.

Henriott said Anderson’s passing earlier this year was especially hard. She said sometimes it is difficult to comprehend how all of their dedicated effort has an effect, but when she gets to the relay she remembers what she is working toward.

“There is still hope out there,” she said.

Tribble said the sisters were selected as Honorary Survivors partly because of their unwavering dedication to the organization, and partly because of their dedication to their family as their relatives have repeatedly confronted cancer.

“We wanted to recognize them not only because they are survivors but also because they are caregivers with all the cancer in their family,” said Tribble.

Kenyon and Henriott expect this year’s event to be emotional as they share their story with Relay for Life participants.

“Everyone is there to lean on everybody because it can be so emotional,” said Kenyon. “If I can touch one person’s life, that means a lot to me.”

She also hopes to get the word out about the importance of monthly checkups to catch cancer in the early stages.

“Sometimes they catch it later in stage three, and they can’t do anything for you,” she said.

Henriott also stressed the importance of monthly checkups.

“Early detection is very important. That’s what got me,” she said. “I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t go in for that mole on my neck.”

 

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