By Alice Gerard
At the “Taste of Relay” on June 18, painted lady butterflies were released from small envelopes to demonstrate the event’s theme, “Hope Takes Flight,” in action. They sat on people’s hands, they fluttered to the ground, and then, they took flight.
“Taste of Relay” honorary survivor Eric Fiebelkorn also talked about hope taking flight in the form of the blessings that cancer had brought to his life. On his 38th birthday in 2012, he was told on the telephone, “Eric, you have cancer. It is far progressed, and it doesn’t look good.”
Fiebelkorn, who is now in remission, spoke at the event: “I was blessed by my ordeal. Cancer is a visitor that brings gifts. It made me aware of the limitation of time.”
When Fiebelkorn recovered, he said the hope that he experienced came as a change to his perspective: “When something happens, I think, ‘I could have missed that.’
“I am happy to be here with loved ones.”
He said he is grateful for the support of his wife, Alicia. “She is an amazing woman and best friend. I am driven to be the best husband, father and human.”
Fiebelkorn said things froze in time during his cancer treatments. Sitting still was hard for a man who was used to constantly being on the go. “It was torture,” he said, “to sit and think. ‘What’s going to happen to me when I die?’ I thought about my eternity.”
“My body has changed forever, as well as my spirit,” Fiebelkorn said.
Those who have been lost occupy Fiebelkorn’s mind, he said. He said he thinks often of his neighbor, Julie Neville, a fifth-grade teacher at Huth Road Elementary School, who died of breast cancer on Oct. 16, 2018.
Fiebelkorn urged everyone to spend time quietly reflecting: “We all die. Not thinking about your eternity is a cancer. Think about it.”
Karen Geng, who had lung cancer in 2020, was exploring the basket raffle. She said, “I’m glad I survived my cancer, and I am glad that I got to spend the last times with my mom, Floydette, taking care of her.”
Geng’s mom, who had lymphoma, died 11 years ago. Other members of Geng’s family lost to cancer include her Aunt Dolly, who had cancer three times and who declined treatment during her last bout with cancer; and her Aunt Jeannie.
Cancer treatment for Geng was “rough.” She related, “They removed part of my lung. I had surgery in September 2020. I made it through with the help of my family and friends.”
She is now in remission.
Dylyn Harrison, community development director for the American Cancer Society, urged people to get their cancer screenings.
“Please get checked,” she said. She said the American Cancer Society has worked to “make sure that everyone’s colonoscopies are covered.”
Mentioning the $2.15 million raised for Relay For Life during the past 20 years, Harrison described the fundraising efforts as “amazing.”
“Thank you for your support, and please get checked,” Harrison said.
The “Taste of Relay” featured musical performances by such groups as Rusty Nickel, as well as a fire performance by Odin and Elektra, who had been scheduled to perform at last year’s event, held at Fuccillo Toyota. Due to torrential downpours and flooding, the fire performance was canceled.
“Taste of Relay” also featured a free meal for cancer survivors, served by “Too Sauced to Pork,” food tents, and a Kid Zone, run by the Grand Island Elementary team, representing Sidway Elementary School, Kaegebein Elementary School and Huth Road Elementary School.
According to Kaegebein Elementary School teacher Cyndi Booker, who co-chaired the team with Huth Road Elementary School teacher Jeanne Percival, the kid zone featured cotton candy, snow cones and face painting. They also watched children enjoying a “bounce-slide combo.”
“Our focus is on educating children about cancer prevention,” Booker said. “We have four main themes. Our first is sun safety and protection. We encourage kids to wear hats and sunglasses and to reapply sunscreen. We hold a hat/sunglasses day at Kaegebein. Children can wear a hat or sunglasses in school for a $1 donation. They can wear both a hat and sunglasses in school for a $2 donation.”
The other three themes are 60 minutes of exercise each day, a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, and a tobacco-free lifestyle. A sign in the school says, “Life’s no joke so don’t smoke,” Booker said.
At the luminaria ceremony, held June 19 at Veterans Park, Relay For Life co-chair Lynn Marston Dingey said, “The luminaria ceremony is an opportunity for us all to come together to remember why we take part in Relay For Life. This is a time for us to grieve for those we lost. It is a time to reflect on what this means to each of us personally. It is a time for us to look inside ourselves with quiet reflection and find hope. No matter what our experience is with cancer, we all share the hope that we will one day live in a world where our children and their children will never have to hear the words, ‘You have cancer.’
“Our path is illuminated by luminaria. Each one represents a treasured relationship. They represent the people, each with a name and a story. They are our mothers, our fathers, our sister, our brothers, our sons, our daughters, our friends and our loved ones. We love these people. We remember them. We celebrate them, and we fight back against this disease for them. These luminaria glow tonight to represent our shared vision for a cancer-free future.”