A circle for life: It’s the people and their stories that fuel the cancer fight in Norlanco Relay

By on June 24, 2016
Shane Johnson, a.k.a. Sassy Sally (left), representing the In Memory of Angels in Heaven Relay for Life Norlanco team, earned the title Miss Relay. At this past weekend’s event, he raised $2,964.82 for the fight against cancer. Runners-up are Dennis Benhayon (center) and Earl Ressler.

Shane Johnson, a.k.a. Sassy Sally (left), representing the In Memory of Angels in Heaven Relay for Life Norlanco team, earned the title Miss Relay. At this past weekend’s event, he raised $2,964.82 for the fight against cancer. Runners-up are Dennis Benhayon (center) and Earl Ressler. Photo by Stan Hall.

Three years ago, Kim Andrew was 29 and a married mother of two toddlers when she noticed a lesion on her forehead.

Found to be cancerous, it was removed; problem over.

But in 2014, the cancer came back and spread to her brain. Doctors told her it would be her last Christmas, that she had six months to live.

“It was a very rough time,” Andrew said Friday evening.

Sitting in the shade with her husband, Eric, and their children, now ages five and three, Kim recalled the horror brought about by the diagnosis.

But there was some hope.

At the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Andrew became part of a clinical trial for a new drug.

“I guess it took pretty well; it was the same drug given to Jimmy Carter,” Andrew said. “At this point, we just hope for a clean scan every time.”

Andrew was given the immunotherapy drug Keytruda.

The cancer is in remission, but because of her history, the future is uncertain, Andrew said.

“The prognosis is not great,” she said. “But we take it day by day.”

As ‘honorary survivor’ for the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” held last weekend on the grounds of Cocalico Middle School, Andrew addressed the participants, telling her story and adding hope to her message.

Hundreds of people turned out to walk laps around the school’s track to raise money for cancer research, to support survivors, and to remember loved ones taken by cancer. A total of $197,013.40 was raised.

Sharon Groff of East Earl served as this year’s event leader for the Norlanco weekend.

Groff has been volunteering with Relay For Life for the past eight years, since her mother died from the disease.

“Until that point, cancer was just a word, but when my mom was diagnosed, it was like the end of the world,” Groff said. “I wanted to remember her – and give back – so I got involved. Now, it’s become a passion of mine. We need to try to find a cure because it affects everyone.”

Addressing the crowd before the survivors’ dinner, Groff said 1.2 million new cases will be diagnosed in the nation this year. Over the course of a lifetime, one in two men and one in three women will receive a cancer diagnosis, she said.

A lone bagpiper sets the tone of remembrance and hope. Photo by Dick Wanner.

A lone bagpiper sets the tone of remembrance and hope. Photo by Dick Wanner.

The American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life will hold more than 6,000 events across the country this year, Groff said. The money raised goes toward research and to cancer patient programs.

Waiting in the large survivor tent with her sister, Tracey Heverling, 48, of Denver, sports a tattoo on her left lateral calf that says “Survivor.”

The word is surrounded by the pink breast cancer fighters’ ribbon, with a butterfly at the top.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and that rocked my world,” Heverling said. “I didn’t think it could happen to me – I was only 43 – but I learned the hard way.”

Heverling’s sister, Shelly Ludwig, was with her for every treatment, she said, and that made a difference.

“This (tattoo) is a badge of honor to me; this means I made it,” Heverling said. “The butterfly means a new beginning and I added that after I ended my treatments.”

Russell and Cheryl Ackley of Lititz made the Relay a family event, walking laps with their son and daughter.

Cheryl, 47, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. After undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, life is finally looking up.

“It was pretty scary, very scary,” Cheryl Ackley recalled. “The six months of chemo, that was the worst. It was six months of laying on the couch. But you do get through it and life gets back to a little bit of normal.”

Cancer doesn’t only affect the patient, it affects the whole family, Ackley said.

“I was worried and I just kept busy,” said husband Russell Ackley. “I’m here for her tonight.”

Daughter, Megan, 22, remembered how frightened she was.

“We were not sure what the outcome would be and having a grandfather who had died of cancer made it more scary,” Megan said.

Last year, Cheryl was chosen as the honorary survivor, speaking to the crowds who came out to walk for “Relay” at Garden Spot.

“I told them everything, from how it felt to lose your hair to how important family support is,” Ackley said. “I know it helped me to hear other people’s stories; it helps you get through it. I’m one and half years out from my last treatment and there’s no problem.”

Bonnie Teets, 63, of Palmyra, was also walking with the Ackley family.

“I have leukemia; I was diagnosed in April of last year,” Teets said. “But it’s slow-growing, so it’s staying the same. It’s not getting worse, so that’s good.”

Walking for the cause means she’s still fighting, she said.

Terry Zook of East Earl was walking laps and also helping in the bingo tent Friday evening.

“I thought it was time for me to jump on the bandwagon,” Zook said. “ I wanted to get involved because I’m a survivor.”

A dozen years ago, when she was 32, Zook recalled how she would see a bruise on her neck as she applied makeup in front of the mirror every morning.

“It was getting bigger and darker…and it turns out, I had melanoma,” Zook said. “When I first found out, I thought of my kids, and I thought ‘here we go.’ “

For a time, it was like falling down the rabbit hole, as Zook was diagnosed three times with the skin cancer; in 2000, 2010, and 2013.

She was alternately terrified, numb, or hopeful.

“Cancer is a scary word, so I read up on it and it seemed like my chances (for survival) were good,” Zook said. “I went to the University of Pennsylvania for a couple of years and they got it before it became invasive.”

Zook continues with check-ups every six months.

As she set up a red tent for her grandson in preparation for the kids’ activities at the event, Teri Marszalek of Schoeneck said she’s been coming out to Relay For Life events for the past 15 years.

“I’m a survivor, so I feel I need to be here,” said Marszalek, who was wearing a pink baseball cap emblazoned with the pink ribbon.

When she was 45, Marszalek went to her family physician for a regular check-up. He asked her if she had a recent mammogram.

“He actually saved my life,” Marszalek said. “I had breast cancer but it was found early. But it was tough. You hear that cancer word and it scares you. I had a cousin who died of cancer at age 21 and that was heartbreaking to me.

“So we have to make people aware,” she said. “We need to raise money for the American Cancer Society and we need to get the word out and keep repeating it.

People think it won’t happen to them, but it does.”

At the Luminaria Ceremony at the Cocalico Middle School track Friday evening, the full meaning of Relay for Life is spelled out under the clear night sky.

At the Luminaria Ceremony at the Cocalico Middle School track Friday evening, the full meaning of Relay for Life is spelled out under the clear night sky.

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