Her world was turned upside down within a matter of weeks.
Through all the changes, the fight to beat cancer and winning the battle, Renn began to help others become survivors. She lives by the words, “Every life touches others.”
Her life since her diagnosis 17 years ago has touched many and she recently received the American Cancer Society Life Inspiration Award.
The purpose of the award is to recognize special efforts by individuals to ease the battle against cancer. Cancer survivors in Alabama who have made their lives a source of inspiration to others dealing with cancer are honored annually with this award, along with a caregiver and a professional.
The award recognizes outstanding examples of people making significant contributions to the lives of those facing cancer.
Renn was nominated for the award by her former student, Taylor Logan. Renn teaches history at Sylacauga High School.
After discovering a small lump in her breast, Renn had a routine mammogram. From there further testing was done and she learned she had breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. Both were successful and today, Renn is cancer free.
In her essay nominating Renn, Logan wrote, “Libby Renn is the epitome of a cancer survivor. She truly believes her diagnosis provided her with the opportunity to spread her message. Serving on the committee that brought the American Cancer Society’s signature event Relay for Life to Sylacauga, Libby has been involved with RFL for 15 years. Relay for Life has been astonishingly successful in South Talladega County and Sylacauga, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research. Libby has served as logistics chairman from the beginning. There is no way RFL would be successful in Sylacauga if it were not for Libby Renn. Her passion and determination to find a cure feed the soul. Speaking to civic clubs, service organizations, and cancer support groups, her sweet, determined spirit resonates throughout the community. Libby Renn truly believes that through prevention, education, and fundraising for a cure, we can all live and enjoy a cancer-free world.”
Renn takes the first lap of Relay for Life each year as a cancer survivor and the second lap as a caregiver.
Four years ago her mother, Betty Hill, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Renn comforted her mother the best she knew how – from the perspective of someone who had been there.
Her mother fought a long and courageous battle, but the cancer metastasized to her brain, spine and pancreas. She lost her battle with cancer Dec. 24, 2009.
Renn recalls how her mom found a lump in her breast in early 2006, but didn’t tell anyone. She was diagnosed and had surgery. The cancer was aggressive. She battled the disease for more than three years.
Renn and her family gathered in Florida at her sister’s home where her parents were staying in December 2009. Her mother was given two months to live following tests done before Thanksgiving.
“I think she was determined we would be together for Christmas,” Renn said.
She said the grief of losing her mother was indescribable. “I have always felt so sorry for other people’s loss, but you don’t really know until it is your mom. I had to redefine my own life as a person without my mom.”
Renn said she doesn’t think about herself being a cancer survivor much with Relay for Life. “It is a job and a huge one at that. I do like bossing people around. I must put a plug in for the students who work for Relay under my supervision. Our Student Council members work a minimum of two hours at Relay picking up trash, setting up and breaking down, putting out luminaries or whatever needs to be done. They are awesome. Several other clubs have kids that work and donate supplies or money. We could not have Relay without the students at Sylacauga High School.”
Renn is more determined than ever to find a cure and fight back against cancer in memory of her mother.
Logan said as a classroom teacher, Renn takes on the responsibility of mentoring her students about prevention and education concerning cancer. “Comforting students whose parents have been diagnosed, Libby is always there with a pep talk, hug, and smile. When asked why she is relentless in her fight for a cure, Libby always responds with an upbeat, positive attitude – ‘so that none of you will ever have to go through what I did. Cancer stinks, it hurts, it makes you cry, it makes you sick, it changes your life forever.’ Her determination and fight inspires dozens of students each year to volunteer for Relay for Life. Over the past 15 years, more than 1,000 high school students have taken out trash, lit luminaries, bagged sand, picked up litter, and anything else that needed to be done – all for Libby Renn and all for a cure,” Logan wrote in her nomination.
Logan said perhaps Renn’s most important ability is to relate her story and her struggle to all people. No matter their race, religion, gender, age, socio-economic class – Renn is always there lending a helping hand and giving heart.
As a former student, Logan said she can attest to Renn’s ability to shape and mold her students to become caring, successful adults.
“She once told me that ‘every life touches others.’ Those words are so true and that slogan has become our motto,” Logan said.
Renn lives by those words daily.
She said she was shocked when she learned she was a recipient of the Life Inspiration Award.
“It was an emotional moment finding out and getting it. I felt very humbled,” she said.
Renn said Logan is a special young lady. “She is like my daughter. I admire the work she does for others, so it means even more that she nominated me. She even volunteered to ring the bells for the Salvation Army when she was little.”
Renn said the first few years after having cancer, as October approached she got apprehensive and had panic attacks.
After a while, she started not to think about it except with her students and teachers.
“My favorite president is Teddy Roosevelt and his birthday is Oct. 27 – my anniversary day – so we usually have a TR/LR (Teddy Roosevelt/Libby Renn) party. The 10th and 15th anniversaries were big. The kids decorated my room with pink and even painted their faces and wore pink ribbons,” she said.
Contact Denise Sinclair at firstname.lastname@example.org