By Kevin Kelley
As in previous years, cancer survivors were recognized individually and presented with a flower during the opening ceremonies of the Fairview Park Relay For Life fundraiser Saturday at Bohlken Park. But this year, caregivers of cancer survivors were also recognized by name.
Denise Devine, chairwoman for the event, called caregivers the “unsung heroes” who help fight the disease.
“The simple things they do make a big difference to that person who battled cancer,” Devine told caregivers.
Katie Gibbons, a survivor of a brain tumor who gave the keynote address at the opening ceremonies, thanked the caregivers for their time, love, patience and encouragement.
“We could not have done it without you,” Gibbons said.
At Relay, teams of people take turns walking or running around a track to raise money from sponsors for cancer research and other programs of the American Cancer Society. Fourteen teams participated in the Fairview Relay in 2011. This year, the Fairview Relay moved to Bohlken Park after several years at the athletic field next to Fairview High School.
This year, many teams had names based on games or TV game shows.
Gibbons, a Fairview Park native, was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of brain tumor called a blastoma. The news came just before she turned 30. She underwent surgery in 2008 to remove the tumor. Although the oral chemotherapy doctors prescribed did not cause her to lose her hair, the massive radiation treatment she later received did.
The effect the cancer treatments had on her appearance was dramatic, she said.
“My face was swollen from steroids, red and irritated from radiation, and I had no hair,” Gibbons said. “And I had a huge scar from the surgery.
“I definitely did not look like the Katie Matia everyone knew,” she said, referring to herself by her maiden name. “It was so hard to run into someone who I had known for years and he didn’t recognize me.”
Despite the seriousness of the diagnosis and side effects of the treatments, Gibbons ultimately concluded that she is a cancer survivor because the people around her – her family, friends and the students she teaches reading to – need her.
Gibbons told the dozens of cancer survivors who attended the fundraiser that each of them, likewise, is still living for a reason.
“You are here for all the people who love you,” Gibbons said. “Maybe you are still here because you are the only person who believes in your child who is chemically dependent. Maybe you are here because your compassion is such a relief to others. Maybe you tell a joke like nobody else or make delicious dinners … For some reason, you are here because your work is not finished. You have more to do here. God is not finished with you yet.”
Gibbons concluded her talk by playing the song “Stand” by Rascal Flats. The song, she said, conveys the message that when life gets tough, you find the strength to overcome.
As she said in previous years, Devine said there is strength in numbers in the battle against cancer. The event chairwoman said she believes she will see the day when a cure for cancer is found.
“Relay allows us to come together to celebrate, remember and fight back,” Devine said.
Fairview Park Council President Mike Kilbane noted that the world has seen many remarkable technological advancements in the past two centuries, such as electrification, powered flight and even space travel. Just as modern medicine has succeeded in conquering diseases such as smallpox and polio, it can conquer cancer, Kilbane said.
“Today, with the speed with which technologies move, anything is truly possible,” the council president said.
Donations can still be made online at http://www.relayforlife.org/fairviewpark.