Relay for Life provides family way to fight back

Jennifer Leverton wanted a way to fight back after her husband Marty went through treatment for a rare form of bone cancer in October.

Jennifer Leverton wanted a way to fight back after her husband Marty went through treatment for a rare form of bone cancer in October.

“I had to figure out a way to turn this into a positive experience,” Leverton said. “Just anything not to sit here. That’s how I found Relay. I started researching things to keep busy.”

Leverton, who lives in Covington with her husband and two children, heard about Relay for Life from a friend who asked her to participate. She called her friend who invited Leverton to a planning meeting the following week.

This journey began with a sore throat, Leverton said. Marty mentioned the symptom. And then it wouldn’t go away. He started off at urgent care. He was given a numbing spray. The sore throat persisted. Marty went to his primary care doctor who referred him to an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Leverton said the ENT doctor couldn’t put a tube down Marty’s throat so he referred him to a specialist at University of Washington Medicine.

In July, the Levertons found out Marty had cancer, chondrosarcoma of the cricoid cartilage in the voice box.

“It felt like somebody pulled the pin on the hand grenade, tossed it then turned around and ran,” Leverton said. “Turns out he has such a rare type of cancer … we didn’t have many places to turn.”

Marty Leverton is a police officer in Renton. He is a motorcycle officer trained in drug recognition. After his diagnosis, Marty was at a conference for that realm of his job and spoke with a doctor he’d gotten to know, his wife explained. This doctor he spoke with at the conference referred Marty to a physician in Boston, Dr. Steven Zeitels.

Leverton said Dr. Zeitels took the time over the phone to talk to her husband and was just the kind of physician they were looking for so they flew to Boston.

“Dr. Zeitels explained everything to us,” Leverton said.

There are just 271 documented cases of this type of cancer. So few, in fact, that there isn’t enough evidence to predict how likely it is the cancer could metastasize. The only way to completely remove the cancer, Leverton said, would be to remove Marty’s voice box.

“But for Marty who is in his early 40s to have his voice box removed, with two small children and a career with many years ahead of him, it was like being hit with a ton of bricks,” Leverton said. “Now it’s a balancing act of removing enough of the tumor so on a daily basis he could breathe. There are no other treatments for Marty like chemo or radiation because this tumor is cartilage based instead of tissue based.”

Through all of this, Leverton said, the amount of support the family received was tremendous. Donations poured in from all over the world, from police, from firefighters, and everyone in between. That was needed because Dr. Zeitels’ practice is so specialized he does not accept insurance.

After spending three weeks in Boston for the surgery and recovery, the Levertons returned, and the family struggled to cope with the whirlwind of events from which they just emerged.

And Leverton found Relay.

“It seemed like the right place to get involved especially when I found out that a portion of the money raised through Relay stays here in the community,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m directly helping someone, I don’t know who they are, but I’m helping someone in the same town I live in.”

As the work toward Relay began for Team Marty, Leverton said, support swelled. Teams are limited to 15 members. So, Leverton said, they formed Team Marty Survivors and moved her husband as well as her sister, who is also battling cancer, to that group. Then a third team was formed.

In one event, the goal to raise $100 per team member, was met. Leverton said they threw a shindig called the Less Cancer, More Birthdays party. There more than 100 guests and $2,600 was raised. Next up this weekend is a cul-de-sac garage sale with 16 different families coming together to raise money while the Levertons’ neighbors are allowing them to use their yards.

“For me, after all of this time, how do you fight,” Leverton said. “I want to do something, so, that’s what I’m doing. I’m doing Relay.”

But it doesn’t end there for Leverton. As she researched Relay she discovered the importance of healthy living in cancer awareness and treatment. After smoking for 25 years, she quit cold turkey. She started shopping for healthier foods.

“I have to be an advocate of good health, I need to walk that talk,” she said. “So for me to set that example for my family, my friends … it’s now about organic, healthy foods, it’s about working out on a daily basis and doing whatever it is I can to fight.”

Janet Swisher, one of the co-chairs for the Covington-Maple Valley-Black Diamond Relay for Life, told Leverton there is a Heroes Lap to recognize veterans and first responders. But, Leverton noted, Swisher said there weren’t many others beyond veterans who agreed to participate.

“Janet said nobody wants to be called a hero,” Leverton said. “I called my husband’s sergeant and asked if it was OK for Marty to ride.”

There will be at least five motorcycle officers who will ride, including Marty, to open the Heroes Lap.

For Swisher, the Leverton’s involvement brings so much to the Relay.

“We are extremely honored to have the Leverton family involved with our Relay,” Swisher wrote in an email interview. “When I read Officer Leverton’s story, it really hit home for me again that cancer can strike any one of us at any time. And this is exactly why we all get involved with Relay: to not only raise funds for the programs and research that the American Cancer Society provides, but also to hopefully support our fellow community members who are facing this disease.”

Swisher believes the presence of Marty and other motorcycle officers will have a significant impact on the event.

“Reminding everyone that our first responders are a critical part of our communities is extremely important, not to mention the visual presence of them leading our heroes lap,” Swisher wrote. “We are really encouraging other first responders to come to our event to participate or just see what we are all about.  We would love to have teams of police officers, firefighters and other first responders participating in friendly competitions in support of our event!”

Relay also offers something else Leverton said she has found helpful.

“Relay is a way for us to kind of stay connected and grounded and have a place, people still don’t like to talk about cancer, the people who don’t have it or aren’t dealing with it,” Leverton said. “It’s hard to talk about it except with other people who are going through it, so, being around Relay, those people become your cancer family. It’s a safe place to go talk about it if you need to talk about something and it’s a place that’s positive and we’re all trying to raise awareness.”

For more information about Team Marty go to and