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Fighting back against cancer in Palmerton

  • TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Members of the Friends and Freedom 1 Relay team sit in the bleachers of the Palmerton Area High School stadium prior to the kickoff of Relay For Life on Saturday.
    TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Members of the Friends and Freedom 1 Relay team sit in the bleachers of the Palmerton Area High School stadium prior to the kickoff of Relay For Life on Saturday.
Published May 27. 2010 05:00PM

Here today, gone tomorrow.

That's a truism Sandy Benson of Palmerton knows all too well, having lost her grandparents, and, more recently, her father, to cancer.

It was with a heavy heart, then, that Benson participated in this past weekend's Relay For Life of Palmerton and Surrounding Areas.

"Cancer's a part of our lives, and (research shows) one in three people will die from it," Benson said. "We have to fight against it, and Relay is one way to fight back."

A Relay Advocacy co-chair, Benson lost her father, James Lower, to the fatal disease in March.

Benson recalled how her father valiantly fought the disease, before he eventually succumbed to its evil clutches at the age of 80.

She said her father's bout with the disease began seven years ago when a tumor was detected behind his eye.

"Two months later, he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer," Benson said. "Two years after that, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer."

Rather than hold a grudge, Benson has instead chosen to focus on the positive strides that have been made in the battle against cancer.

"We really have come a long way as far as research for cancer," Benson said. "None of us know which one will be next to be diagnosed; you turn around, and every day there's another person being diagnosed with cancer."

As the only one of its kind in Carbon County, Benson said Palmerton's Relay For Life could use more participants.

"We would love to have more people from Carbon involved," Benson said. "Cancer never sleeps, and we are never safe."

Trista Markley, formerly of Palmerton who now resides in Massachusetts, could surely attest to that.

A member of the Dream Team Relay, Markley said she had every reason to want to participate in the event.

"I'm doing this in honor of my mother, Carol Hanke, a survivor of thyroid cancer," Markley said. "I'm proud of her."

Held at the Palmerton Area High School stadium at 325 Fireline Road, the 24-hour event was held Saturday into Sunday.

The theme of this year's event was "Celebrating, Remembering, and Fighting Back through the Decades".

Featured activities were the Celebration of Survivors, a Luminaria Service to Remember those lost to cancer, and a Fight Back Ceremony.

The event got under way with an opening ceremony that included the singing of the "Star Spangled Banner" by Angela Nardini, followed by an opening prayer by Vicky Smith.

A Parade of Teams led off the Fight Back ceremony led by the Double S duo of Benson and Sharon Krebs, the Relay's Advocacy co-chairs.

The Survivor's Celebration was also held, and included music by Olde Friends, recognition of Honorary Chairs Carol Hill & Kathleen, some words from Deidre Grubb, an ACS Voice of Hope, a special Survivor Lap and a reception.

Next was the Luminaria Remembrance Ceremony, which included vocals by Nardini; readings by local children; Michel Huk, who shared her caregiver story; and Gene Kutzler, who played the Bagpipes.

The ceremony concluded with a lap around the track by Caregivers and Survivors while the track was illuminated by the Luminaria in remembrance and honor of loved ones.

A frozen T-shirt contest, bingo, alligator wrestling, a scavenger hunt, Chinese auction, Ring the Flamingo, a midnight cake walk, and the traditional Ms. Relay Contest, emceed by Lori Ann Klement, Ms. Pennsylvania American Queen 2006 were also held.

Other entertainment saw a demonstration by Emerald Dragon Karate School, entertainment provided by local DJ's, and Haircuts by Jessica Greif, Pantene Pro-V Beautiful Lengths, on the track.

By the time the event had come to a close, about $83,000 had been raised, said Chris Borger, publicity chair.

"We raised more than we thought we would," Borger said. "The local fire company will have their carnival this weekend, and those proceeds will also benefit Relay."

Borger said Relay's year doesn't officially close until Aug. 31, which will allot for additional time for more proceeds to come in.

A cancer survivor, Borger said surviving is what Relay is all about.

"Whether it's for me, my family, my neighbor, or someone I don't know, curing Cancer is why we Relay; we come to Relay to celebrate our efforts to fight this dreaded disease," Borger said. "Everyone should come, to honor or remember someone they love, to celebrate their own survivorship, and to work to preventing others from having to endure the pain of cancer."

Teams fundraise all year long in support of the event. Palmerton's Relay For Life was one of 217 community and collegiate events that raised $21.1 million statewide in 2007.

The theme of last year's event was "A Million Reasons to Celebrate" to commemorate Relay for Life's 25th anniversary nationally.

That event, which had 463 Luminarias, 643 participants, and 225 survivors participate, raised $118,222, to push the grand total to over $1 million since the event formed in Palmerton in 2002.

Of that, $113,000 was raised by the event itself. After the Palmerton Fire Co. No. 1 donated proceeds from its fourth annual firefighters carnival last May, the committee was less than $5,000 shy of the $158,000 in order to reach the $1 million goal. Since then, contributions were turned in to Relay that raised the grand total to $1,000,802.

The first Relay For Life event was held in 1985 in Tacoma, Wash., by Dr. Gordy Klatt, and is the nation's largest overnight, 24-hour, nonprofit walk event.

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