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Jefferson County Relay for Life 'overnight celebration of hope and survivorship'

June 22, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richarb@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Matthew Kropf, who survived bladder cancer, was honorary chairman of the 2013 Relay for Life Jefferson County this weekend at Charles Town Middle School.

He had no qualms talking about the ordeal he went through in 2010 when doctors removed his bladder and replaced it with one fabricated from a piece of his intestine.

“If my story can inspire and help someone else, then I’ll tell it over and over,” said Kropf, 47, of Charles Town.

His ordeal began in May 2010 when he noticed a slight red color in his urine. He thought it was just a urinary tract infection.

“A week later, it was the color of deep red wine,” he said.

His urologist in Lansdowne, Va., diagnosed cancer after dark spots on Kropf’s bladder showed up in a CT scan.

“My heart sank when he told me it was stage 2 cancer,” Kropf said. “It was a long, lonely ride home as I was thinking how I was going to tell my wife.”

Kropf and his wife, DeDe, have two teenagers.

His doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore said the tumors had worked their way into the muscle of his bladder. If they passed through the muscle and entered his body, the cancer would have moved to stage 4, he said.

Kropf’s bladder was removed on Nov. 9, 2010, and was replaced with a neobladder during a six-hour operation.

“I would be dead now,” he said. “I didn’t even know I had cancer. I was very lucky and blessed.”

He said nothing was more important to him during his ordeal “than the support of my family and friends.”

Kropf was one of more than 300 participants, individuals and members of 32 teams who walked in the relay.

It began at 2 p.m. Saturday and ends at 7 a.m. today, said Linda Hart, who with her husband, Daniel, handled publicity.

Both had spouses who died of cancer after long marriages. The Harts, married now for 10 years, met through a mutual friend, Linda Hart said.

Cinda Staubs of the Hopeful Angels team from Silver Grove United Methodist Church in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said her team was participating for the eighth year. Thirteen of the team’s 32 members are cancer survivors, she said.

“So many family members (of the church) have passed that we were inspired to get our team together,” Staubs said.

Last year, the team baked and sold 300 apple dumplings for the charity. This year, it sold 150 cold cut subs, she said.

“We’ve brought in more than $3,000 so far this year,” Staubs said.

The relay’s goal every year is to raise at least $100,000 for cancer research, Linda Hart said. As of 2:30 p.m. Saturday, more than $94,000 had been collected.

The relay is “an overnight celebration of hope and survivorship,” she said. Teams camp out and take turns walking around the school’s athletic track all day and night honoring those who survived cancer and in memory of those who didn’t.

The event is kicked off every year with the Survivor Lap, populated by those who have beaten the disease.

A poignant event began at dusk with the start of the luminaria ceremony. Volunteers and participants light hundreds of candles that illuminate the perimeter of the track. They join one another in a silent walk around to pay respect to survivors and to reflect on the lives of loved ones, friends and others who succumbed to cancer, Linda Hart said.

More than 577,000 Americans died from cancer in 2012, she said.

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