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Cancer survivors take victory lap during annual Relay for Life

June 15, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Friends and family of Katie Stains of Williamsport console each other as they listen to a song during the opening ceremonies of the Relay for Life.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Cancer survivors were saluted and applauded on Friday as they took a victory lap at Fairgrounds Park in Hagerstown.

It’s a tradition at the annual Relay for Life, an affirmation that cancer can be beaten.

Phyllis and Bernard Keating of Hagerstown got in line for the march and ended up at the front of the pack, holding the event banner, along with Kathy Keeney of Big Pool.

Phyllis defeated skin cancer. Her husband has had both skin cancer and prostate cancer. He said he’s been cancer-free for 12 years.

They were in good spirits as they set the pace, with Phyllis sporting a giant pink remembrance ribbon — a ribbon so large, her head fit through the loop and it rested around her neck.

It had been part of a Halloween costume her daughter, Julie Slusarz, created.

Slusarz and her sister, Tina Wolfensberger, took several pictures of their parents as they posed with a survivors’ group of at least 75 people.

Cancer also has been a killer for their family, though.

Slusarz and Wolfensberger said their sister, Sharon, died of breast cancer about eight years ago at age 44. Their sister, Karen, died of colon cancer about three years ago at 48.

With hundreds of people gathered in the park on a clear, pleasant evening, John and Sharon Gildee of Hagerstown told the crowd what it was like to be both cancer patients and caregivers.

First, Sharon was diagnosed with cancer. While she got chemotherapy and radiation treatment, John ran the household while working a full-time job.

Then, John developed esophageal cancer, and Sharon cared for him.

The couple, who have been married for 45 years, described how difficult both roles were, in different ways.

Watching your spouse go through drastic changes, “your faith is severely tested,” Sharon Gildee said.

Relay for Life is a day of basking in life and nursing grief, playing games and music, and lighting memorial luminaria.

People form groups with catchy titles to raise money in the names of friends and relatives who have died or suffered.

Some groups embraced the evening’s 1970s theme in how they dressed and at the tents they stayed in for the overnight event.

One group in tie-dye clothing held a “Protest Cancer” banner.

Then, there was the “1-Eye 1-Horn Flying Purple Polyp Eaters,” about 20 people having fun with a tweaked title of a popular oldie song.

Their costumes had both unicorn-style horns on their head and cyclops-style eyes below the horns.

The group, from The Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown, had “polyp” cupcakes and muffins at their booth.

Callie Ryan and Susan Sheldon were co-conspirators in coming up with the team name and theme.

Ryan said her great-niece, Caitlin Raco, died last year of a neuroblastoma near her kidney. Caitlin was 3 1/2.

As the Keatings and their supporters continued their trek around the park and away from cancer, Wolfensberger said the group’s mantra is: “Continue to fight.”

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