Taking a step for health

June 13, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

Jackie Burkett and dozens of other employees from Brethren Mutual Insurance Co. have a special motivation to participate in this weekend's American Cancer Society Relay For Life - their late co-worker Tina Wiley.

Wiley died in January of melanoma, a type of skin cancer, at the age of 35. While Wiley's death left her family reeling, her co-workers also were affected, said Burkett, who worked alongside Wiley for 15 years and cultivated a special relationship with her.

"This for me, at 35, I thought was just a cruel blow," said Burkett. "This person I thought I'd have through everything. To me, (Tina) wasn't just my best friend, she was family."


Now the employees at Brethren Mutual are making sure they do their part spreading awareness about cancer, especially skin cancer. Participating in the Relay For Life is just one way they are remembering Wiley.

"I personally think that a lot of people have stopped going to the tanning beds," said Julie Reese, a farm underwriter at Brethren Mutual. Employees also have held awareness events to remind people to protect themselves from the sun's rays.

Wiley's cancer was discovered in 2001 when she noticed an irritated mole on her hip. After treatment, she was considered to be in remission for nearly four years.

But then, in late 2004, Wiley's cancer came back with a vengeance, Burkett remembered. In the beginning of January it was clear Wiley was dying. She could no longer eat, drink or speak and her organs were failing.

"People are so unaware of what this cancer entails," Burkett said. "Don't blow off skin cancer. This is a terrible disease. It is very painful and it can travel anywhere."

Spreading that message is part of the reason employees at Brethren Mutual will be walking overnight Friday with the American Cancer Society Washington County Chapter Relay For Life.

"What Tina went through - she can't have died in vain. With these funds let's find a cure for this disease," Burkett said.

Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society's major annual fundraiser. Nationwide, hundreds of communities will hold the overnight walking or jogging event with members of individual teams keeping at least one person walking at all times. Teams collect donations; all money raised goes to the American Cancer Society.

Last year, the Washington County relay raised $62,506 for the cancer cause. This year, organizers have an $80,000 goal, said Kelly Scott, community manager for the Washington County chapter.

Brethren Mutual isn't the only company participating in honor of a co-worker. First Data Corporation has organized several teams to participate in the Relay For Life, rallying specifically around an employee who died from cancer this past year.

"We're trying to participate in hopes of making a little bit of a difference," said Diane Baker, site and community coordinator for First Data. First Data also is the major sponsor for the event.

Many local businesses held fundraisers to support the event, Scott said. And many walkers have motivations similar to the Brethren Mutual and First Data teams.

Joining the corporate and business teams are church groups, health-care professionals, high school students and the friends and family of cancer victims, Scott said. About 20 teams are registered to take part in Friday's event, but anyone can sign up until the relay starts, she added.

Money raised this weekend will fund cancer research, early detection and prevention education, advocacy and patient services, she said.

Survivors Reception planned at track

Organizers of the American Cancer Society Washington County Chapter Relay For Life encourage anyone who is fighting cancer or who is a survivor of cancer to come out for a Survivors Reception, at 6 p.m. Friday, June 17, at the South Hagers-town High School track.

Opening ceremonies for the 14-hour walk will kick off at 7 p.m. A luminaria ceremony will take place at 9:30 p.m. Luminarias will be lit in honor of people who have died because of cancer or who have survived the disease. Luminarias are $10 each and can be purchased by contacting Kelly Scott at 301-733-8272. Luminarias also will be available for purchase early on at the relay event.

For more information or to participate in the relay, call Scott at 301-733-8272.

If you go ...

What: The American Cancer Society Washington County Chapter Relay For Life

When: 6 p.m. Friday, June 17 to 9 a.m. Saturday, June 18

Where: South Hagerstown High School

Cost: A registration fee of $10, plus donations per participant. There is no cost for spectators.

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