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Island of Hope: Spinning the wheel with Relay For Life

Sat, Mar 24th 2018 07:00 am
Krystina Burow from the American Cancer Society serves as a blackjack dealer at the Grand Island Relay For Life Kickoff. (Photos by Alice E. Gerard)
Krystina Burow from the American Cancer Society serves as a blackjack dealer at the Grand Island Relay For Life Kickoff. (Photos by Alice E. Gerard)
By Alice E. Gerard
The lights were low and the gamblers were focused on winning big at the blackjack table and the roulette wheel. These were high stakes games. There was the potential for a big payout. It was a matter of life and death.
The players at this casino were "Betting on a Cure," this year's theme for Relay For Life, scheduled to be held from 6 p.m. until midnight at Veterans Park on June 8. The casino games were featured events at the kickoff for Relay For Life, held on Tuesday at Ellden's Grill & Banquet at River Oaks.
At the event, the 2018 honorary survivor, Maureen Tyson, talked about how high her stakes were. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2013. "Cancer is hard. My son was eight. I didn't think that I would see his next birthday and his first communion."
Tyson's mother, Nancy Maghrak, had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988. She died in 2005.
For Tyson, 55, this was another in a series of difficult diagnoses. "I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 2007. It is nodules on my lung and is non-cancerous. In 2011, I was hospitalized with a cardiac episode, which was not called a heart attack. When I was diagnosed with cancer, it was, 'What else is going to happen?' It was the third thing."
She is now a six-year breast cancer survivor. "I am an ordinary person who is trying to give back. I felt honored, but I also felt that there are more deserving people out there than me."
Tyson, who had started participating in Relay For Life in 2010 to honor her mother, after her son, Danny, brought home a flier about the event from Sidway Elementary School, formed a team called Moe's Miracles. In the first year, the team consisted of Tyson and her husband, Mark. The team now has six members.
She said that, in her first two years of participating in Relay For Life, she and her son walked in the caregivers' lap.
"We took care of Nana. We walked with the caregivers." She said that she remembered being impressed with the courage of the survivors. "In my third year, I became that survivor. I felt a big hug from everyone at Relay when I walked with the survivors."
Relay For Life co-chair Lynn Dingey said that Moe's Miracles won the award for best rookie team in 2013. She noted the creativity the team put into the tent and into the displays. Tyson said that, during the team's rookie season, "We did handmade note cards in a scrapbook style. We put card stock on top of card stock. We embellished the cards with ribbons, beads and silk flowers. We bundled them up in packages of six. We also made cut-out cookies that year."
Tyson said that, during Moe's Miracles' first year as a Relay For Life team, "I had no idea of what I was doing. I had no idea that there was a theme and that you had to go along with the theme. So I was out there by myself."
After the first year, Tyson said that her teammates focused on decorating their tent to reflect the year's theme. "One year, the theme was "Rock Out Cancer." It was a rock band theme, but I took a different route and I did a rocking chair. It was painted in a whimsical, fun style, like the designer MacKenzie-Childs. We raffled that chair off. The pirates theme was in 2017. One of my team members' grandchild was dressed up as a little pirate. They sold cookies on a stick and chocolate-covered pretzels. This year, we are going to do cookies on a stick, and we will probably bring back the note cards because they are such a big seller."
Tyson said that the team raises approximately $1,000 per year for Relay For Life. "I'm there because I want to give back. Every little bit counts."
Kickoff master of ceremonies Mark Gorton, who was a member of the 2017 Dynamic Duo honorary survivor team along with eight-year-old Matthew Eggers, said, "Cancer is a life-changing experience. Cancer is a monster that steals those who mean the world to us."
Mariah Turk, community development director at the American Cancer Society, said that her personal experience with cancer motivated her to her career. "I am a survivor myself. I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in 2010, during my last semester of high school," she said. "Being a cancer survivor definitely motivated me to pursue this career path. I'm sure any other survivor that you speak with will tell you that being diagnosed with cancer drastically changes the outlook you may have on life and, ultimately, where it takes you. Once I was immersed in this world, I knew I could never truly leave it, and that's what inspired me to want to join the American Cancer Society."
According to Turk, "The Relay For Life of Grand Island raised $122,595.45 for the American Cancer Society in 2017. In 2016, the event raised $140,592.67."
The 2018 Relay For Life will open at 6 p.m. at Veterans Park, with the luminaria ceremony being held at 10 p.m. It will close at midnight. The three co-chairs of this event are Dingey, Candy Mye, and Wendy Napier. The 2018 Relay For Life is dedicated to the late Mary Dunbar-Daluisio, said Gorton. "No words can express what she meant. Her spirit is felt here today."
The 2018 Grand Island Relay For Life honorary survivor Maureen Tyson started the team Moe's Miracles after her 2013 breast cancer diagnosis. Her husband, Mark, is a part of her six-member team.
In addition to the introduction of the honorary survivor, a variety of awards were distributed at the kickoff. They were:
Unsung heroes
Dana Robinson, Tracey Melisz and Deanna Wik.
2017 honorary survivors
Matthew Eggers and Mark Gorton.
Team awards 2017 (with the amount raised):
Bronze level
Jon Jon's Team: $2,531
Mye Hopes for a Cure: $2,532.13
Huth's Heroes: $2,606
King of the Wing: $3,246
Silver level
Record Breakers Featuring the Polka Dot Chix: $3,505
Vikings for a Cure: $4,282.15
Father's Day Lawnmower Race and Classic Car Show: $4,501.08
Gold level
Kaegebein: $5,665
Platinum level
Sidway Superstars: $8,787.29
Jade level
Mallwitz Cancer Crew: $14,572.52
Sapphire level
Mike's Marchers and ACI: $15,827
Emerald level
Fresenius Kabi: $25,991.75
All Stars 2017
Bob Duggan, Lynn Dingey, Becky Sommer-Stufkosky, AnnMarie Salviski, Tim Weymer, Cyndi Booker, Lisa Dudley, Candy Mye and Floyd Doring.
Grand Club Members
Mary Dunbar-Daluisio, Donna Tomkins, Valerie Gaydosh, Mark Gorton, Sara Slachiak, Nancy Anderson, Missy Stolfi, Foghorn Leghorn, Mary Mallwitz, Mike Mallwitz, Michelle Mallwitz, Kathy Franz, Hayden Garey, Kelly Wilkinson, Heather Warter, Wendy Napier and Ashley Gugino.
2017 Relay sponsors
Fresenius Kabi, Trans Union, Ecology and Environment, United Survey, Sevenson Environmental Services, Zonta International, DV Brown and Associates, Say Cheese, American Coradias International, Uniland Development, Mallwitz Island Lanes, TSTP Championship BBQ, Father's Day Lawnmower Race and Classic Car Show, Grand Island Central Schools, Grand Island Memorial Library, Town of Grand Island, IsledeGrande.com, Niagara Frontier Publications, Erie County Sheriff's Office and Grand Island Police Department, and MacKenzie Highlanders Pipers.

The team from Fresenius Kabi was awarded the emerald level at the Relay For Life Kickoff.

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