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story.lead_photo.caption Relay for Life of Callaway County is holding a virtual celebration. Photo by Olivia Garrett / Fulton Sun.

Over the next few weeks, the Fulton Sun will be highlighting local cancer survivors and caregivers ahead of the annual Relay for Life of Callaway County event, which is being held virtually this year. The second installment of the series focuses on local survivor and caregiver Linda Boshers.

Linda Boshers has seen how Relay for Life of Callaway County has grown over the years — in 1997, she was a founding member of the first event.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has foiled plans for the annual fundraising event. Instead of meeting in person, the campaign by the American Cancer Society will take place virtually June 7-12.

While survivors normally gather to walk together, now they'll be logging laps around their neighborhoods and sharing their stories on social media.

"I'm going to miss going to the Relay and I'm going to miss setting up the tents and seeing all the different campsites and the people that sometimes I only see once a year — I'm going to miss all of that," Boshers said. "But we've got to keep the Relay going."

Boshers involvement began when cancer came into her life — the Fulton native and emergency room nurse is also a survivor of bladder cancer and witness to the devastation cancer causes.

She was in her late 20s when her aunt died of lung cancer. At 33, her grandmother died of bladder cancer. Four years later, she lost her husband after a long battle with cancer. So when she was diagnosed with the same disease as her grandmother at 43, she understood how serious the illness can be.

She was afraid.

"When you're a survivor, when you're first diagnosed, you actually go through the five stages of grieving," Boshers said. "And I know that sounds funny, but you do because you really think you're going to die."

It didn't make much of a difference that she'd seen it before.

"All of those feelings rush in as with anybody who has it, whether you've been a caregiver or no, whether you're a doctor or a nurse or not," Boshers said. "I've known a couple of doctors who've had cancer, and one of them I'm kind of close to, when he developed cancer, he would come to me to talk because he knew I would understand."

But Boshers didn't die — after a surgery and a year of chemotherapy, the cancer was gone.

"I'm the lucky one," she said.

Boshers credits her doctor, whose diligence she said helped save her life.

"I was very, very lucky it was caught very early because I had a very good doctor who recognized the signs," Boshers said. "Bladder cancer is kind of a silent killer. You don't really have any symptoms that would initiate further treatment or further testing, because it usually comes across like a bladder infection or cystitis."

Though it's been 25 years since she won her battle, Boshers hasn't stopped supporting others in their own journeys. In 1997, Boshers helped start the first Relay for Life event in Callaway County.

"We need to really find a cure," Boshers said.

Despite her familiarity with cancer, Boshers didn't hear about Relay for Life until after she was declared cancer-free.

"I didn't really know anything about Relay," she said.

In 1995, a friend from work at the hospital asked her to come to the event in Columbia and walk the survivor lap.

"I thought, well, I'll do it," Boshers said. "You know, I had no idea what I was getting into."

The event was at Hickman High School.

"I went over there, and I walked the survivor lap. I was totally dumbfounded about the people and what they were trying to do and I got hooked that night on Relay," Boshers said. "I was kind of shocked to know that they were doing them all over the country and I had no idea."

Boshers helped bring the event to Callaway County.

That first year, the event took place at the track at the Missouri School for the Deaf. The group stayed up all night with games, pajama contests and ice cream. A band played most of the night, and they cooked breakfast in the morning.

"It was the first year we had the relay, and there were only seven teams — and we collected a little over $7,000 for the (American Cancer Society)," Boshers said.

In the years since, the local event has changed and grown — it was held last year at Memorial Park. Boshers has been there almost every year.

"The thing I like best is, every year, we have survivors that come, and there are some people out there who have been survivors as long as I have," she said. "I love seeing all these people and talking with them at Relay and you reflect."

In addition to her family, Boshers has been a caregiver for friends as well.

"A very good friend of mine that we've been friends for over 20 years, developed cancer," Boshers said. "And when he was put on hospice, he had nowhere to go. So he came to my house and I took care of him here until a few days before he died with cancer."

A few years ago, she was named Caregiver of the Year.

"I cried a lot, I'll tell you," Boshers said. "I still do because it just really meant a lot to me. I never expected it."

Since 1997, Relay for Life of Callaway County has raised over $875,000.

Donations to Relay for Life can be made at bit.ly/367hVg0. Luminarias in honor of loved ones are also for sale — they'll be displayed in the Callaway Bank window and in the garden on the corner of Fifth and Market streets in Fulton on June 12.

In addition to volunteering with Relay for Life, Boshers has been living her life to the fullest.

"My sister calls me and says that I have a death wish because I learned how to dive after I was 50," she said. "I do a lot of traveling and go different places, sometimes by myself. I just had so many different experiences that I would have never had and lots of memories and made good friends along the way, maybe a few enemies too. I would have missed all of that. I would have missed the people that I've come close to and the people that I've met — I hope in some ways that I've changed their lives."

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