GOSHEN—The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Goshen went off flawlessly on June 11 with a community and caregivers that believe in strong support for cancer patients. The event was a whole day affair at the Goshen High School track field that ended at midnight.
Two grand marshals this year spoke of gratitude toward their caregivers and family that would not let them quit. Ashley Wade, 20, and Andrew Stevens, 12, had beautiful smiles despite painful treatments and emotional ups and downs.
Wade, walking nimbly with a prosthetic leg, told the assembled about the day in 2011 that she learned she had cancer. “I thought my life would never be the same. I was right but not in the way I thought it was,” she said. She learned much about herself, how much she could endure, and how she did not give up, even when she wanted to.
“I got tired of taking one step forward and two or three steps back. I would like to say it’s been smooth sailing since I went into remission, but it would be a lie.” Her suffering brought her into a circle of celebrities—NFL quarterback Eli Manning, and American Idol contestants. The Make-a-Wish foundation sent her to the London for the 2012 Olympics.
Wade says the best part was that she was not alone. “Best of all, I got to see how in the community shared with me and that we were not fighting this battle alone.”
Stevens has a rare form of cancer that is being treated at the Westchester Medical Center. “They have the best doctors and they are always nice to me. They help when I’m sad and they make everything sound easy,” he said. The day after the relay, Stevens went back for his last treatment.
Veronica Ingram-Henry, coordinated the Goshen Relay for Life. Her activities for ACS have special meaning because her mother is a 28-year survivor of colon cancer. The event is a walk, not a race, she said, and 213 people and 30 teams signed up for the event. One person from a team must be on the track at all times.
Janis Petak was assisted by Tamika Charles in managing a tent for survivors, called the Café of Hope. Survivors could sit, have lunch, and rest throughout the day there. “We wanted to make it really special for the survivors because they go through so much,” Petak said.
Charles was grand marshal two years ago. “We are cheering them on,” she said. “We are there for support.”
The Minisink High School council of the Girls on the Run organization made the relay their special project. Betty Guyette, 17, is the junior coach for Girls on the Run.
The students write letters to the survivors and caregivers, Guyette explained. “For a survivor: congratulations. You are really strong and you did it. I believe in you. For a caregiver: I appreciate and admire everything that you do for the people that you are helping,” she said, explaining what goes in the cards.
The organization trains girls to run a 5K but also teaches them to make healthy choices and how to deal with things like peer pressure, Guyette said.
Before the survivor lap began, a couple strolled the track hand in hand. Alicia Justiniano is a survivor of breast cancer that was diagnosed in 2014. She lost her sister to breast cancer that year and is now determined to be with other survivors.
“My main goal is just to partake in as many events to bring awareness to cancer. Rain or shine, I wanted to come out,” she said.
The chief angel of her caregiver team is her husband Angel. “I am Alicia’s angel,” Justiniano said. “I am supporting her because 43 years of just life support that we’ve given to each other. I am here for her for life.”
Goshen Mayor Kyle Roddey found inspiration in all the people who came to make the event unfold. “It’s such an inspiration to the people of Goshen and Orange County that people of all ages would come together for this cause,” he said.
Volunteer Heather Plummer said the relay symbolizes a cancer patient’s journey through cancer right to the midnight hour. “The light and darkness of the day and night parallel the physical effects, emotions, and mental state of cancer patients while undergoing treatment,” she said.
She said that the work to put the event together parallels a cancer patient’s treatment regime. “Just as you will be exhausted and drained when you leave tonight, so is a cancer patient after treatment.”
Staffer Beth Conklin told the assembly some amazing facts about ACS and its research history. Founded in 1913, the ACS has given more than $4 billion in grants for research since 1946. Since 2014, the society has funded 847 grants worth more than $438 million, Conklin said.
Conklin said ACS Cancer Action Network (CAN), the Society’s advocacy organization, lobbies “to make cancer issues a national priority,” according to the network’s website. The network lobbies to funnel tax dollars for cancer research and to influence elected officials to support research efforts.
Cancer is one of the most complex problems in modern medicine, she said. The disease appears in more than 100 forms and arises from many causes. Thousands of cancer-causing gene problems have already been identified, she said.
“There are likely hundreds of thousands more that are yet to be discovered. Gaining a better understanding of why and how this genetically occurs and how it leads to cancer continues to be a major goal of cancer researchers.”
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