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Island of Hope: AnnMarie Salviski is Relay For Life honorary survivor

by jmaloni
Thu, Jun 13th 2013 04:10 pm
AnnMarie Salviski, 2013 Grand Island Relay For Life honorary survivor.
AnnMarie Salviski, 2013 Grand Island Relay For Life honorary survivor.

by Alice E. Gerard


Ten years ago, AnnMarie Salviski was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. She said that the diagnosis frightened her.

"When I was diagnosed, it was 10 years, almost to the day, of my father's diagnosis with colon cancer. My father passed away from it," Salviski, 55, said. She said that she wondered, "What's going to happen? Am I going to die? You think of all of these things. Then you stop worrying about yourself." She said that she began thinking more about her two daughters, Anna, 34, Maria, 32, her son, Nicholas, 27, and her husband Ron, 55.

"When one person in a family has cancer, the whole family has cancer," Salviski said.

Shortly after Salviski learned that she had cancer, she was invited to participate in Relay For Life. She said, "Bonnie Sciuk (owner of Brite Ideas) came to the place where I am employed. She knew that I was a cancer patient because I was wearing a baseball cap and had no hair." Sciuk asked Salviski to be part of Relay For Life.

"It was an opportunity for me to toot my own horn. I got a team together. The first year, we raised $1,000. We've raised almost $100,000 through the years. We did it all in our plant through the generosity of the people I work with," Salviski explained. The team consists of employees of Fresenius Kabi Pharmaceuticals on Staley Road, where Salviski works as a training coordinator.

This year, Salviski has been designated as the honorary survivor for Grand Island's Relay For Life. Salviski, who lives in Niagara Falls, said, "I was shocked when they asked me. I was very surprised and very humbled. It means a lot to me."

On Saturday, Salviski will be at Relay For Life at Veterans Park, with her team. One of her teammates is friend and coworker Lisa Dudley, honorary survivor in 2008. She too is a breast cancer survivor. Salviski said that most of her family will come to Relay For Life, with the exception of her mother, Ruth, 82, who has Alzheimer's.

One of the requirements for both honorary survivor AnnMarie Salviski and honorary caregiver Emily Reynolds is to give a speech at Relay For Life. "I'm never at a loss for words, but this is hard. I don't want to get up in front of everyone and drone about cancer. I want people to take away from Relay that there is all kinds of hope. Relay keeps you grounded. I am not there because I have cancer. I am there because someone else does," Salviski said.

Salviski talked about meeting honorary caregiver Emily Reynolds, 10, and her sister Caralyn, 8, at the Relay For Life kickoff in February. "I couldn't think of a better caregiver than a sister, especially at their ages. At the kickoff, they walked up hand in hand. I think that their closeness is extraordinary. I could never complain when I see these two. They always have a smile on their faces."

Salviski described her own journey with cancer. She said that the care that she received from her first oncologist, Suleyman C. Sarpel, "probably is what made it so easy to live through it. I couldn't have asked for a better oncologist. He made the difference. He was very caring." That doctor is now retired. His specialties were hematology, oncology, and internal medicine, and he had an office on Grand Island.

Salviski had a radical mastectomy shortly after she was initially diagnosed. She described it as "devastating," but added that she was able to maintain her sense of humor. After five years, she had reconstructive surgery.

In January 2013, Salviski was once again diagnosed with breast cancer. "The cancer came back in the same general area, underneath the reconstruction," Salviski said. She added that the cancer was caught in a very early stage. She is happy with the care that she is getting at Roswell Park. "That is a wonderful place," she said.

Salviski described her cancer as "hormone positive." She said that the "estrogen produced by my body was feeding the tumors." Even after going through menopause, the female body still produces some estrogen, and it was that estrogen that fueled the growth of the new cancer cells.

In the future, she said, she will have surgery. Because Salviski's cancer is in an early stage, the surgery can be postponed. "My son is getting married in October," Salviski said. "I can hold off. It's still pretty early, and it's not at all like it was the first time. It's being monitored closely. I didn't want my son to play second fiddle to cancer. I wanted the summer to be about him and his future wife."

Being diagnosed a second time was a different experience from her first diagnosis. "It was not as frightening," Salviski said, adding that she felt angry when she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. "It's been 10 years since my initial diagnosis, and I thought that I was in the clear." She added, "I'm not surprised by the rediagnosis. I was watched really closely, and I had other little relapses."

Salviski does not have the breast cancer gene, although she said that she "comes from a family of many cancers." Her father had colon cancer and her paternal grandmother died from breast cancer, also at the age of 55. She also had cousins with brain cancer and leukemia.

Salviski said that many people with cancer have far worse experiences than she has had. "My cancer seems so minor compared to other cancers. Some are life-ending. It's all a matter of how soon they (medical personnel) find the cancer."

When Salviski isn't at work or raising money for Relay For Life, she can be found pulling weeds in the garden that her husband planted, reading, attending concerts, or going to her 11-year-old granddaughter Alexis' softball games. "I love going to games. I am a die-hard grandparent when it comes to softball with her. I scream the loudest."

Salviski said, "I used to tell people that Alexis came at just the right time. She took all of our thoughts away from the cancer."

Salviski said about Relay For Life: "I am excited. This is so much fun. It is a big part of our lives, even at work. We generally start up our year with a basket auction at the plant. It gets you so excited. I love to say that we've added money and donations to our team page. I am thrilled to do this. I'd like to think that, if I didn't have cancer, I would do this ... work on this cancer awareness. This is fun, and I am helping someone else. I don't know where they are, but I am helping someone."

Relay For Life will be held from 2 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. Sunday at Veterans Park.

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