Relay for Life Norlanco showcases survivors, caregivers, but misses monetary goal in cancer fight

By on June 29, 2017
Honorary Survivor Jennifer Graybill is surrounded by fundraising stars collecting funds with their trendy purses. Photo by Michele Walter Fry

Honorary Survivor Jennifer Graybill is surrounded by fundraising stars collecting funds with their trendy purses. Photo by Michele Walter Fry

With new strides in cancer research and exciting therapies that kill cancer cells while sparing healthy cells, one would think events supporting fundraising for fighting the disease would be up. However, locally this year, that did not occur.

The number of survivors showing up at the annual Norlanco Relay For Life held this fast Friday and Saturday, June 23 to 24, at Garden Spot High School was down. The supporting crowd was as dismal as Friday night’s steady and occasionally bursting rain.

And, unfortunately, the $205,000 goal was far from being met: only $131,306 was raised.

Every year, Honorary Survivors and Caregiver(s) are chosen to share their story.

Jennifer Graybill, a two-time cancer survivor, poured out her heart, with many pauses and tears. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2010 at the age of 33. She spoke of how she felt in between the first and second diagnosis.

“Physically, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel,” said Graybill. “I didn’t know what my new normal was. I was still quite tired and as the months went on, the pain came back. The pain had been so bad that eventually I couldn’t walk.”

Graybill called her doctor.

“After a few questions and an exam, his words to me were: ‘Of course we will have to go through the proper tests to confirm my diagnosis, but I believe it’s back, kid, and this time we are in a dog fight’.”.

Graybill was devastated.

“He said: ‘Thirty years ago, I’d be getting you comfortable, but today we have an option’,” said Graybill.

Graybill has had organs removed, is made up of some “man-made” parts, and is a “walking study.”

“Thanks to research and development, I was able to celebrate my five-year milestone last March,” said Graybill. “Without those advancements in cancer research, my children would be motherless today.”

Amanda, Rick, and Sophia Wagner head the pack after cutting the ribbon to start the event.

Amanda, Rick, and Sophia Wagner head the pack after cutting the ribbon to start the event.

Honorary Caregivers Rick and Amanda Wagner are parents to 14-month-old Sophia.

“We were told that Sophia’s leukemia was very rare and that she had an MLL rearrangement which was a genetic abnormality that caused her bone marrow to create cancerous blood cells,” said Rick Wagner.

“We were also told that Sophia would have a 20-percent chance of survival. Due to her MLL rearrangement, Sophia would need a bone marrow transplant which will give her the best possible chance of surviving her leukemia.”

Sophia went through ten days of intense chemotherapy in preparation for the transplant.

“We saw our beautiful daughter become sicker than we had ever seen her,” said Rick. “She completely stopped eating and seemed to be in a lot of pain, but we knew it was our only option to save our daughter.”

Sophia’s bone marrow accepted the donor’s and her percentage of survival is now up to 60 percent.

“This is why we relay; thank you for reminding us why we do this,” said Sharon Groff, event lead coordinator.

Sophia’s sparkling personality and inquisitive nature has not been dampened from cancer treatments.

The cause of cancer can be a mystery and why one gets it and another doesn’t. Arguably, the most common causes include the environment, genetics, stress, and diet.

Mary Dissinger’s cancer was detected by a mammogram.

“It was diagnosed early, but in one month’s time between diagnosis and surgery, it doubled in size, so it was very aggressive; it jumped an entire stage,” said Dissinger.

“It was a very new tumor, apparently stress can do it. We lost a son who was close to 30. He fell asleep and never woke up, basically. He had sleep apnea and wasn’t wearing his breathing mask.

“I’ve been relaying for 20 years but I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. I walk so that hopefully someday my grandchildren won’t have to hear that they have cancer.”

Nancy Portaro was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer last March. Her family made matching t-shirts to support her. All the teams were called down from the bleachers and asked to be honored while walking the track. Portaro’s team was so new, they had not registered as a team and did not know if they should walk.

Portaro will be a first-time grandmother in January and has the best-case attitude for a better outcome.

“You go through a lot of ups and downs, but here’s the thing, even though they tell me they can’t cure me, God can do whatever He wants, and that’s where my hope lies,” said Portaro.

“It’s up to Him. It’s not up to the doctors. You need them, they do what they do and they do it well, but I think the key is staying positive. You can’t go to those dark places. You learn to live life and treasure every day.”

Portaro is up and about because her doctors intend to make chemo treatments livable while extending her life. She described her initial signs.

“Signs were abdominal and back pain,” she said Portaro. “They thought it was acid reflux, then they thought it was a gallbladder issue.”

Portaro’s recent CT scan showed the tumor decreased in size.

Groff is a power fundraiser for cancer research, and has relayed for more than 10 years.

“Mom passed away in 1993 from breast cancer,” said Groff. “I wanted to do this, but didn’t think I could and in 2008, they found a tumor on me and they rate them between one and five (the higher the more severe). I was rated 4.5. After the biopsy, they said: ‘God must have something He wants you to do because you don’t have cancer’.”

While hopeful about the strides made in cancer research and proud of the participation of those at the relay, Groff couldn’t hide her disappointment.

“We did not make goal, the numbers are way down,” she said.

Among her chief concern about the event: changing the location from Cocalico High School to Garden Spot every other year means a loss of participants from school to school.

Groff, who is stepping down from her leadership post, said she is not sure where the 2018 event will be held.


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