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March 8, 2008

 

Celebration with serious mission

Relay for Life

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cancer survivor Kim Rowland, of Cortlandville, speaks during the 2008 Relay for Life kickoff Thursday afternoon.

By KATIE HALL
Living and Leisure Editor

Kim Rowland said when she heard the words “breast cancer,” her world stopped.
“So many thoughts were going through my head,” said the then 26-year-old Cortlandville woman.
The nurse and breastfeeding mother, who did not smoke cigarettes and maintained a healthy diet had no factors for the disease. When she told the doctor she felt a lump in her breast while nursing, he said it was probably a clogged duct.
But Rowland worried and got a second opinion. She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Now cancer free two years later, Rowland was the featured speaker at the Cortland Relay for Life kick-off meeting at the Valley View Drive office Thursday.
After her shock and myriad emotions, the mother of three took action. She had her cancerous lumps removed, had four months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. Her husband, family, friends and community were there for her the whole way.
“Cancer changes your life. A lot of bad things happened but a lot of good things happened too. I am stronger because of it. I look at life differently. I cherish every day.”
“Know your own body,” she advised the group. “Be your own medical advocate. Early detection saves lives … It’s events like this that help raise money and help raise awareness  — so maybe our children won’t go through this.”
Relay for Life, set for June 20 and 21 at SUNY Cortland’s Davis Field, is a celebration and fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. Held in 5,000 communities across the country, the event is the signature fundraiser for the society. Funds raised go for research, education, advocacy and services.
From now to June, teams will be fundraising through garage sales, spaghetti suppers and sock hop dances, and other creative avenue they can think of, to benefit the society. Monies are collected up to the event, which is an overnight campout where team members take to the track and have someone walking on it at some point throughout the night.
It features a special survivor lap, where cancer survivors are honored in the first lap around the track. Caregivers take the second lap and then it is open to teams. At dark, the track is lined with special candles, bags purchased and decorated in honor or in memory of those who survived or were lost to the illness. Seeing the impact of cancer brings up a range of emotions for walkers. At the same time, entertainment, games and fun take place all night long.
“We have been touched by cancer in our family,” said Sue Sherwood of McGraw, a team captain whose “Happy Campers for LIFE” has been participating in the relay since it started in 2002. “I lost my dad to lung cancer 12 years ago and my father-in-law 11 years ago to gall bladder cancer.” Several uncles in the family have died as well, she said. Her team has a family/friend make up, with her husband, Jeff, their two boys, in-laws, good friends and their kids and husbands.
“It gets us together as a family and it gets us to meet new people that have experienced what we have experienced.”
Their most successful fundraiser is homemade sugar cookies at Valentine’s Day and Easter, making 130 dozen cookies each holiday and selling them for $3.50 a dozen, Sherwood said. “It’s a good money maker.”
“The Relay for Life is truly an event where the community comes together,” said Tiffany Bechtold, community executive for the American Cancer Society. The mission of the relay is to celebrate, remember and fight back, she told the packed board office, with 80 people and several standing. Co-captain Anne Wingard urged team captains to register their team on the Cortland relay’s  Web site, where 43 teams have logged on. Give her a call at (607) 758-4106 or email awingard@cortlandschools.org to find out more. Wingard is chairing the event with Cris Denniston.
Charles Bassett of Cortland is a cancer survivor looking at his third relay. “I have family members that have gone through it and it’s a good charity,” Bassett said.
He’s the inspiration for the Charlie’s Angels team, headed by Susan Horner of Cortland, who has a mom who’s a survivor. She participates every year to help find a cure.
The American Cancer Society funds researchers early in their careers — 35 of whom have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. The society funded more than $130 million in cancer research this year, and has put in more than $2.4 billion since 1946, according to ACS officials.
Dick Lorows of McLean is a cancer survivor and got involved with the relay after attending the ACS’ “Man to Man Prostate Support Group” at the hospital.
“You get a lot of support and there’s a lot of people that are worse off than what people realize. Cancer knows no age limit and no gender,” he said.

Cancer survivors sought

Tony Julian, who heads the Survivor Committee for the Relay for Life, is looking for anyone who has dealt with cancer to attend the relay.
“We are trying to get anyone with cancer to come out and not be ashamed of it,” said the Virgil man, himself a survivor.
Every year, the Relay for Life has a special dinner for cancer survivors and those who have dealt with the illness kick off the June 20 and 21 event, to be held this year at SUNY Cortland’s Davis Field.
Julian said that survivors need to know they have the support.   “We have this disease. We can survive it.”
Julian, who will be helped by Maria Dillingham on the committee, sends out invitations in May to those who have participated in the relay in the last two years. Anyone newly diagnosed is sought for this year’s event. Call Julian at (607) 753-1854.
At the first Relay for Life in 2002, there were 70 survivors, he said. Last year, there were over 220.