"4 Strong;" Local Woman Wants to Change Perception of Stage Four Cancer

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PANAMA CITY-- Crystal Martinez deals with other people's disasters on a daily basis. She works with Disaster Response Team to help locals after fires or floods have plagued their homes.

She's been dealt a few disasters of her own.

"We were flooded during Hurricane Opal," Martinez explains, detailing how the experience eventually led her to DRT.

But the latest disaster is one that can't be fixed with a hammer and nails.

"It is something we do every day," Martinez said. "We deal with disasters in people's families every day. And it so marries with what I'm living right now."

First, her dad passed away from bladder cancer. Then she found a lump.

"I never dreamed it would happen to me," she said.

The storm subsided and cancer left her life for a time. Fast forward five years to this past February when a nagging pain in her hip drove her back to doctor's and a painful prognosis.

"That was on a Thursday at about 4 o'clock I went in to do the x-ray," she recalled. "At seven, he called me and said, 'Unfortunately, what you thought is true.' Worst probably three moments of my life."

The three moments amounted to stage four cancer.

"You go through the whole gamut of 'Oh my gosh I'm gonna die; I've got two months to live,' and I mean it was horrible."

Cancer cells settled into her bones. Reality set in, too.

"The worst... not being able to see my kids get married and have children," she said. "And that was a killer."

But her faith, friends and a foundation stronger than her flooded house picked her up and turned her around.

"It took my husband saying, you know, 'Pick up your pants. This is not you, this is not how you live your life. This is not how you want to live the rest of your life, whether that's 10 years or 10 months.'"

She said she might have cancer, but cancer doesn't have her.

To Martinez, many people see stage four cancer as a death sentence. She wants them to look at it instead as a chronic illness.

"I'm a realist. I'm not one of these people that go, 'Oh, I'm gonna fight every step of the way and I'm gonna beat this.' No. I'm not gonna beat this," she said. "I'm not gonna beat it. But I'm gonna beat it back for as long as I can."

In the past few weeks, Martinez started "4 Strong." It's an organization she wants to use to bring awareness to stage four cancer by focusing on quality of life instead of time.

"Even if you don't get an extra 10 or 15 years, five years is precious," she said. "That allows me to see my daughter get married, my son graduate and possibly get married. Maybe even squeeze in a grandchild."

For Martinez, stage four cancer is just another one of life's disasters, but she won't let it define her.

"I choose to live my life with vigor and positively and love of life because that's that God wants us to do."

She said she wants other people that are in a similar situation to have hope and find peace.

"Eventually you're going to get to the end," she said. "And well, I intend for that to be a long time."

Martinez said she wants to encourage local businesses to donate $100 to the American Cancer Society through "4 Strong." She will film local groups doing things they feel makes them strong, such as reading a book or doing jumping jacks for four minutes.

She'll then then share their efforts online.

"4 Strong" will also be hosting a Christmas photo fundraiser on October 17. For a suggested donation of $10, anyone can come and have their Christmas photo taken.

To learn more and sign up for the "4 Strong" team, you can visit their page on the Making Strides website.