Almon and Dot Woodward, who find plenty of reason to smile after their respective battles with cancer, say their unity has been enriched by the gift of life since they were married 50 years ago. The couple, above, recently celebrated their anniversary, 50 years after their wedding day (The above photo was scanned from the Saturday, June 14, 2003 Edition of The St. Albans Messenger - The Photo was taken by Greg Bessette, however, my scanned copy in no way reflects the quality of Greg's work. The following story was written by Leon Thompson, Messenger Staff Writer)

FAIRFAX--Look at Almon "Al" and Dot Woodward's wedding picture from May 3, 1953, and then the photo from the recent party celebrating their golden anniversary. There are noticeable differences--gray hair, their posture, an extra set of eyeglasses.

Yet one thing has not changed-the way they hold hands. They clutch firmly, as if to say, "I'm glad you're here."

This grip is just one of many factors that has helped the Woodwards stay married for five decades, a major task for any couple, but one that becomes more daunting when cancer attacks both spouses.

The Woodwards are two of about 500 people from 30 teams slated to walk in the Franklin County Relay for Life next weekend. The American Cancer Society's signature event will be held at the Collins-Perley Sports Complex in St. Albans Town.

Like many local cancer survivors, the Woodwards wouldn't miss the relay. They first walked in the Chittenden County relay in 1997, before Almon contracted prostate cancer, and, to date, have raised more than $15,000 with their Unity Walkers teammates.

"I think it's a great event," says Dot 58, sitting outside her 150-year-old Fairfax home, her husband beside her. "I can't imagine not doing it."

Trudy Cioffi, Franklin County relay co-chair, said she was "amazed and excited" to hear about Al and Dot.

"It is not common to have a married couple of 50 years as cancer survivors," Cioffi says. "Al and Dot are inspiring."

Actually, there are more married cancer survivors than one might think, according to the Woodwards. They know two such Franklin County couples in their age group, another in Chittenden County, and one in Texas, where they spend their winters in a RV park.

"I think we're very blessed and lucky," Dot says.

"I feel the same way," adds Al, 71, taking his wife's hand--again.

Al was slightly older than Dot when they met in the Bellows Free Academy, Fairfax band. They played clarinet.

She was good," Al recalls. "I wasn't. I was more interested in being near her than playing clarinet."

A Korean War veteran and former Republican member of the Vermont House, Al was on weekend leave from the U.S. Navy when he asked Dot to marry him. She accepted, and they wed in a Fairfax church before honeymooning in Nova Scotia, where Dot's grandparents lived. After Al ended his four year Navy career in Maryland, they returned to Fairfax.

Soon afterward, Dot's father, Reg Nichols, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Al helped him on his dairy farm and bought it from Dot's mother, Freda, in 1960, three years after Reg died.

Al retired from farming in 1997. His two sons and his nephew now milk about 180 cows on the farm. (The Woodwards also have four daughters and 13 grandchildren.)

"I had to quit farming," Al says. "I was having health problems and bad knees. I just couldn't do it anymore."

Major illness affected the Woodwards firsthand in 1975, when Dot found a pea sized lump on her breast. She saw the late Dr. Waiter Rath on a Wednesday and underwent a modified radical mastectomy-breast removal-that Friday.

"I didn't want to wait," she says. "I wanted it done immediately."

She was 41 and had never had a mammogram. Now, she has one regularly.

Dot's follow-up treatment from Dr. Gerhild Bjornson required two years of chemotherapy At the time, there was limited treatment for side effects, so Dot sustained weakening nausea and sharp headaches. She had five children, with one in school, and relied on Al and her relatives for help.

"Back then, we didn't have the support systems that are available today," she explains.

"Dot was so sick, Al says, "but she never quit.

"That was not an option," Dot adds.

Al says, "It was a difficult time.

Dr. Donald Miller discovered Al's enlarged prostate in 2001. Tests revealed cancer.

I wasn't terribly terribly pleased, that's for sure," Al says. "But I knew we just had to deal with it. We had been through it before. We could do it again."

Al faced various treatment options, from radiation to a "seed implant," an injection of "radiated seeds" into the prostate. He opted for prostate removal.

"It was the only way I would know it was gone," he says. It worked. Last month, Al's urologist told him he was cancer-free.

Dot, however, has never considered herself cured. The slightest ache or pain in any section of her body generates a kernel of fear.

"I think when you deal with cancer, you set your priorities in a hurry," she says. "You realize what's important and not so important anymore."

Contact Leon Thompson at 527-9771, ext. 112, or

Henry A. Raymond
June 23, 2003