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Cancer survivors get together in front of the luminaria tent.
Cancer survivors get together in front of the luminaria tent.

Rain does not deter Relay For Life's 'Carnival of Hope'

Sat, Jun 8th 2024 09:55 am

Story and Photo by Alice Gerard

Senior Contributing Writer

Sunday’s Relay For Life, held at Town Commons, featured rain, activities for children and adults, free meals for cancer survivors, live music, and more.

It was the rainiest Relay For Life since July 17, 2021, which featured soaking rains, flooding, blustery winds and even a tornado warning. Relay For Life co-chair Lynn Marston Dingey said, “Relay in 2021 was a total washout; yesterday was nothing like that, thankfully.”

The luminaria ceremony was canceled, however, because of the rainy conditions.

“So much love goes into each one; we didn't want to put them all out in the rain and have them ruined before the ceremony even started. As soon as we have a new date, we'll share the information,” Dingey said.

Activities that were held at Relay featured a large inflatable slide for children, face painting, a fire performance, “The Price is Right,” and more. There were food tents, a basket raffle, and vendors selling Buffalo Bills-themed merchandise, as well as crafts.

One of the vendors, Dawn Davis, said she has been creating her crafts for one year. She makes hair bows, headbands and tumblers, as well as kindergarten graduate shirts. She said, about the shirts, “I print them on a computer. Then, we sublimate them, using heat.”

Her favorite part of creating and selling her crafts, she said, is “just the joy that it brings the little girls.”

About Relay For Life, Davis said, “I love it. I think it’s a great program. I hope they meet all the goals that they want, that they have set for this year.”

From the stage at Relay, a message from Dylyn Harrison, who works for the American Cancer Society and who was unable to be at the event was read, reminding people to make sure to get their screenings, including skin checks, colonoscopies and mammograms.

When it was time to honor cancer survivors, Lisa Dudley, a member of the planning committee, related, “As a survivor, when I saw that tent full of people and their families, in the rain, I said, ‘You might have to get wet to come out here.’ One lady said, ‘We survived cancer; we can get wet.’ ”

After calling 50 survivors to stand in front of the luminaria tent for a photo, Dudley then introduced the two honorary survivors, who were to speak at Relay: “Good afternoon, everyone, on this rainy day. I’ll just say if the Bills can play in the snow, we can Relay in the rain.”

The first honorary survivor was Christina Meisenburg. She talked about experiencing cancer, both as a survivor and as a family member of others diagnosed with cancer.

“Hi everybody. I am so incredibly blessed to be here today,” Meisenburg said. “Cancer runs rampant in my family. I’ve lost six aunts, three uncles, a grandfather, a father, and a sister to cancer.”

Meisenburg’s sister, Stefani Perakis, who had worked for the Niagara County Mental Health Department, participated in Relay For Life until her death from cancer at 51 in 2008.

“Thirty years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, and Relay became a family to me,” Meisenburg said. “I couldn’t have gotten through it without the support that I had from everyone. I come every year. I hope to give a little bit of hope, even though I talk about the family members that I lost. Here I am 30 years later, not only surviving, but thriving. A huge part of that is thanks to the Relay community. Thank you, all, for what you do and for being here.”

“I know (Christina’s) family, too, and they are a big part of Relay history,” Dudley said.

The second speaker, Denise Filosofos, was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer in Florida and was unable to attend Relay For Life in person. This bout of cancer is her third. She had previously been diagnosed twice with breast cancer.

“She’s a 26-year survivor, and she’s a close friend of mine,” Dudley said. "Denise is always giving, and now she’s fighting again. So, today, on her behalf, her brother, Mike Filosofos, is going to read her speech. We think we have her on the phone, watching us.”

“Thank you for this honor,” Denise wrote. “I really appreciate it. I don’t know what you would do to deserve it, other than to get cancer. As my doctor here in Florida said, ‘No one should get cancer in their lives, much less three times.’ Being a survivor is what you aim for and hopefully have a long life. My goal is to beat this cancer, and I did two other times, to come out as another long-time survivor.

Denise related that, when you hear the words, “You have cancer,” the words are “like a punch in the gut. Your world explodes. You want nothing more than to get rid of it. You listen to your doctors and what their treatments entail. You do the treatments, and you hope for the best.”

She described that as being the first part of survivorship.

“The second part of survivorship is getting through the treatments, however long it takes. And it can be grueling. This can be the toughest part. If you can get through the treatments, you are doing good.

“Once you finish the treatments, you are officially cancer-free and you feel that, now, you can get back to living. I became an advocate for breast cancer and have been involved with the Susan Komen Foundation for more than 20 years, as well as the American Cancer Society. I have participated in so many walks, runs, etc., over the past years, in support of breast cancer and all other cancers. I have participated in Relay For Life for many years and will continue. Now, I have a new one to support: Pancreatic cancer.

“Survivorship is what you aim for and, hopefully, have many years to spend more time with your family and friends. I’ve been fortunate to survive two bouts of breast cancer. I will beat this one, too, especially with all the love and support I’ve been given.

“I was diagnosed in December in Fort Lauderdale. I choose to stay here because the doctors and the facilities are the best for this type of cancer. I will remain here until they tell me that I am clear, and then I will come back to Grand Island, my home. … Please keep your prayers and positive thoughts coming my way. I love you all.”

In addition to the survivors, Fresenius Kabi was recognized for raising more than its contributions to Relay For Life.

“It’s great to be here,” said Tony Pavell, who works as a plant manager for the Staley Road facility. “The mission of our company is saving lives. Hopefully, one day soon, we’ll need a lot larger survivor tent and a lot larger stage here.

“I’m glad to be here again, supporting the survivor tent. That’s for survivors and their guests to get a nice, hot meal. Anyone else can come through and, with a small donation or whatever you can do, you can have a meal, as well. Please stop by if you haven’t already. I want to thank the American Cancer Society, Grand Island chapter, for recognizing us and giving us the opportunity to speak today. We’re a generic drug manufacturer and a neighbor located here on Grand Island. We were able to raise over $18,000 this year for the cause.

“I want to thank Ann Marie Salviski, although she’s not here today. She’s at a wedding. She’s a retiree. She’s still working strong to support us and to raise money for this cause. And Kathy Kraft and Lisa Dudley for their dedication. Without committed people like this, it’s really hard to make things happen. I really appreciate the work that Lisa and Kathy and Ann Marie do for us every day.”

The day after the event, Dingey said, “Attendance was down in general, but we had well over 50 survivors and their caregivers join us in the survivor tent, which is our highest number of survivor attendees since before 2020. I heard ‘I survived cancer; a little rain's not stopping me’ several times during the event.

“I think we had more people than we think. The crowd size stayed pretty steady throughout the day, but it wasn't the same people. We were so happy to see everyone and can't thank them all enough for venturing out in the rain to support our event and our survivors.

“As soon as we have a new date (for the luminaria ceremony), we'll share the information.”

Upcoming: interviews with the honorary survivors.

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