Hundreds rally at Relay for Life
Hundreds of cancer survivors, caregivers and friends came out to support cancer research for the 15th-annual Norlanco Relay for Life.
The American Cancer Society event was another qualified success that went for 24 hours on the Cocalico High School track June 20-21.
This year’s teams worked diligently to wipe out cancer and have fun at the same time with their “hitting cancer out of the park” theme while raising awareness, celebrating successes and remembering those lost to the disease.
Becky Bixler cried during the luminary service when names were called out of those who lost their battle.
“I have stage four colon cancer,” said Bixler. “I was diagnosed Fourth of July last year.Happy Independence Day to me.”
Bixler’s mother, grandmother and great grandmother all passed away from colon cancer before the age of 30. She got tested for the disease starting at age 20 and every three years after.
“Last year I was getting weaker and finally couldn’t get out of bed and they told me right in the emergency room: (Bam) ‘You have cancer’,” said Bixler.
At 36 now, Becky is worried about her own two daughters ages 12 and two.
“They have a fifty-fifty chance of getting it, but I want it to stop with them. If they catch it early enough they can remove the colon completely and bypass everything,” she said.
“I never knew what my mom went through because I was four but it’s been an eye-opener this last year. You can look perfectly fine but be in complete pain and people just don’t understand. As long as my girls are okay, that’s the most important thing,” said Bixler, from Ephrata.
Bixler says she takes it one day at a time and says even though she’s stage 4, she believes in miracles. She says she can’t eat much and the only thing that will agree with her is canned spaghetti and chicken noodle soup.
Teams formed campsites for the night and some walked and did activities through the entire event without sleep.
The survivor lap was once again one of the most special moments of the night. It’s a highly emotional and symbolic event for the survivors. Many go from laughing to crying in seconds and often it’s the caregiver or family member who has the hardest time making the lap. Some survivors can’t make it all the way, physically or emotionally.
Christopher Lettorale with his wife, Amy, walked the survivor’s lap. Lettorale, from Denver, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma a few years ago in his mid-30s.
“I was basically a recluse for two days in shock,” said Lettorale. “They just tell you you have cancer and send you home. In my eyes, it’s probably everywhere so I’ll be dead in a month. I went home and got my affairs in order.”
“My first thought is ‘I’m going to lose my husband’,” said Amy. “Once we knew what the treatment plan was and knew it was an 85 percent positive response to treatment, we felt we had a direction to go and that made us feel better.”
They said their kids, Baden and Mallory handled the news differently and there were times when Lettorale couldn’t be near his young kids because he was too toxic from the radiation. He said they got it early enough and he’s cancer-free.
Kristi Stief, age 40, from Reinholds walked the lap with her daughters. As a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, she has interesting reminders tattooed on her body that she looks to for comfort.
“This is a buttercup so whenever I feel like I’m having a bad day, I look at it and say ‘buck-up buttercup,’” said Stief.
Cancer types are assigned different colors and this year instead of survivors all wearing purple as they had in the past, some were wearing “their color.” Since Lymphoma gets green, her other tattoo is a green ribbon with three birds representing herself and her daughters. It’s after the Bob Marley song, “Three Little Birds”:
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Saying’, “This is my message to you”
Singing’ “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright.”
Michele Walter Fry welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.