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Relay For Life celebrates 15th year on Grand Island

Fri, Jun 16th 2017 04:30 pm
Dozens of cancer survivors take the survivors lap at Grand Island Relay For Life, led by honorary survivors Matthew Eggers and Mark Gorton. (Photo by Larry Austin)
Dozens of cancer survivors take the survivors lap at Grand Island Relay For Life, led by honorary survivors Matthew Eggers and Mark Gorton. (Photo by Larry Austin)
By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Tracy Schmidt said she attended past Grand Island Relay For Life events never knowing that one day she would be on stage during the opening ceremony telling her own family's cancer story.
During the 15th annual GI Relay For Life on June 9 in Veterans Park, Schmidt recalled the day in May of 2015 when her son Matthew Eggers was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, stage 4. The tumors on his spine and lungs had sapped him of strength.
"We never thought it would be us standing up here when we supported this event in the past, but if it has taught us anything, it has taught us that we will never give up the fight," Schmidt said.
After treatment, Eggers, now a second-grader at Huth Road Elementary School, is in remission.
"You all have helped to keep our spirits up and to give us strength when things weren't going our way," Schmidt said.
Matthew has had to learn to walk again, though the long-term after-effects of treatment are less clear, with possible damage to his heart, kidneys, nerves, and immune system.
"Next week, we will meet our after-treatment goal of being cancer free for 18 months," she said. "Burkitt lymphoma has a high rate of coming back within that time, but we are very optimistic that all his tests will be clear."
Matthew said he didn't know what cancer was, but knew he was in a fight for his life. He praised his doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital and Roswell Park Cancer Institute, as well as the people at Relay.
"Fundraising events like Relay For Life help to give hope that one day no one will have to fight cancer," Matthew said.
Eggers shared the honorary survivor title at this year's Grand Island Relay For Life with Mark Gorton, who called himself Eggers' "first mate," in the spirit of the pirate theme of this year's event.
Gorton said, "I feel so incredibly blessed to be here today among family, friends, co-workers, co-survivors like Matthew, and all of you out there in the community."
An audiovisual technician for the Grand Island Central School District, Gorton paid tribute to those who cancer had taken away.
"We honor those we miss tonight and walk to celebrate their never-ending spirit," Gorton said.
He reminded survivors present that "You are not alone" and led residents of the Island of Hope in a pirate call that hope is greater than cancer.
"Finally, the cure is out there maties, and it's all because of you," he said.
Master of ceremonies and Island native Katie Gibas of Spectrum News said the Relay, the signature event of the American Cancer Society, was not only a fundraiser supporting ACS's life-saving mission, celebrating lives, and leading the fight for a world without cancer, but it also is about bringing the community together in a unified effort.
Gibas said the Relay, which ran from 4 p.m. to midnight, symbolizes the fight that cancer patients face: The light of the day and darkness of the night parallel the physical effects, emotions and mental state of a cancer patient while undergoing treatment.
The GI event has grown into the largest Relay For Life in the Buffalo area, raising well over $1 million.
Senior community manager and staff partner Missy Stolfi of the ACS informed the GI Relay participants during the opening ceremony that more than 40 Islanders had signed up for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, or ACS CAN, an advocacy arm of the ACS. Stolfi said Grand Island was the first ACS CAN club in Western New York.
"We know that we don't want to stop at 40" members, Stolfi said.
ACS CAN will advocate for legislation and research dollars, Stolfi said, to remove barriers to cancer screening and increase resources for survivors. "Beyond tonight are great opportunities to join the fight, become a CAN member, sign some petitions and find out about how you can be part of the advocacy, that fight-back piece, of the cancer fight," Stolfi said.
As of Thursday according to the Relay For Life website, the GI Relay had raised $104,422.15.
Luminaria bags surround the Island-shaped tree near Veterans Park Drive during the 2017 Grand Island Relay For Life. Many luminaria there honored Mary Dunbar-Daluisio, past chair of the GI Relay, who spoke at this year's opening ceremony. (Photo by Larry Austin)

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