By Casey Dahlstrom
Grand Island Relay For Life
One year ago, the Gworek family's lives changed forever when their son, Luke, was diagnosed with leukemia. In December 2013, doctors discovered the blood cancer and immediately started him on a heavy dose of chemotherapy.
"When Luke was first diagnosed and we had to return to the hospital unexpectedly, oftentimes we felt scattered and scared because we were uncertain of what to expect," says Luke's mother, Danielle. "Luke's view of cancer is what you would expect of an 8-year-old boy. He understands that his blood is sick and needs chemotherapy to help make him better. He is scared of the unknown but faces each day with strength and faith."
Danielle says they have developed a series of plans and have bags packed and set aside as returning to the hospital could happen at any time due to fevers and infections.
But what makes the Gworek family special is their commitment to helping others, even while they fight the cancer together. In 2014, Luke was dubbed the Band-Aid King for organizing a drive that collected over 2,000 boxes of kid-friendly Band-Aids, while his sister, Faith, volunteers with her religious class for organizations such as Carly's Club.
"We know that cancer has changed our family forever, but we will not let it define us negatively. We embrace the fight ahead because this will not end once Luke is done with treatment in 2016, but will be a road that will continue to take sharp turns and have up and down hills," said Danielle. "Bill and I are so proud that Luke and Faith have not buried themselves in self-pity but have embraced the chances they have to help others."
The Relay For Life of Grand Island committee certainly caught notice. At the kickoff event for Grand Island's 13th year hosting the Relay For Life event, Luke was named the honorary survivor for 2015. Each Gworek family member is an honorary caregiver.
"Luke has looked at the solution beyond the problem of cancer. He knows how to connect with people. Most would look at a doctor as the one to offer council and hope. Not this little boy. He looks at the people and the community around him and he is the one that shares the hope. This young man is the face of tomorrow; and that tomorrow being a world without cancer," said Grand Island Relay For Life tri-chair Becky Sommer-Stufkosky.
Relay For Life is the fundraising event for the American Cancer Society supporting cancer research and patient care programs. The overnight walk returns May 30 to Veterans Park to celebrate survivors, remember those who lost their battles and fight back against a disease that has taken too much already.
"One World, One Hope: Imagine Our World with a Cure!" was chosen as the 2015 theme by the GI Relay For Life committee to symbolize that cancer is not a prejudice disease and that the fight is a global struggle every day. The Grand Island community has raised $1.3 million in 12 years and is eager to spread its mission with even more participants, particularly survivors.
"Survivors are amazingly strong individuals and often have an equally amazing caregiver. Anything we can do to brighten even just one day of their battle is worth doing," tri-chair Lynn Dingey said.
There is no cost for registration this year. To help survivors like Luke, you can find out how to donate and learn more about Relay at www.relayforlife.org/grandislandny.