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Pay it forward with Relay for Life

Judy Fox of Groveton. (click for larger version)
May 27, 2009
Relay for Life volunteers come from all walks of life, and each has a unique story to tell of why they are involved in the nationwide American Cancer Society event. While their stories are as different as they are, what unites them is their commitment to raise both money and awareness in the fight to stamp out cancer.

Relay for Life is an overnight experience that will change your life, say those who have participated. It includes a parade of survivors, luminaria lighting, a silent auction, games, music, food and much more. Teams compete throughout the year with fundraisers and at the Relay event itself to see which can raise the most money. Last year, the goal was $45,000, but $72,000 was raised. This year the goal is $75,000.

"When I began my nursing care 40 plus years ago," said Ellen Malessa, the event chairperson, diagnostic tools and treatment options were limited, and the beacon of hope was just beginning to flicker. Now the beacon of hope is burning brighter every day."

Ellen, who lost both her parents to cancer, joined Relay for Life because she wanted to be part of the team that is fighting back. "I Relay because it's bringing us closer to a cure every day," she said. "I Relay in my parents' memory."

Moria Bundschuh of Groveton, Susan Wall of Lisbon, and Judy Fox of Groveton are three of the volunteers who will take part in Relay for Life of the North Country on June 20 at Norton Pike Park in Littleton. Everyone, they say, knows someone who has been touched by cancer. These are their stories.

Moira Bundschuh

Moira Bundschuh is a cancer advocate, lobbying for funding for cancer research and treatment assistance. "This year, " she said, "the big issue has been the (state) budget cuts." She testified before the Senate budget committee, which held a hearing at White Mountains Regional High School this spring, telling her story of why the state shouldn't cut out funding for catastrophic illnesses, such as cancer.

Moira's mom, Cynthia McTigue, 62, was diagnosed with Stage IV incurable brain cancer, called glioblastoma, in November 2007, and has been living with Moira and her family (husband and three kids) since January 2008. Because of the cancer, Cynthia has been unable to work, and Moira has had to leave her job as an English teacher at White Mountains Regional to care 24/7 for her mom.

The Groveton resident has spent much of the time since the diagnosis educating herself about her mom's cancer and advocating on her behalf to be sure she receives the appropriate treatment. "At this point I feel like an expert. I feel like an oncology expert," she said.

The shock of her mother's cancer was devastating, but then came the shock of the treatment costs. "You're not prepared," she said. "It's expensive for chemo. When we moved her here, the (state) catastrophic plan helped to get her her medicine."

However, preliminary budget cuts had eliminated this plan, which is essential for even those who have insurance, because regular health insurance doesn't cover the catastrophic cost of many cancer treatments.

"We need better and more aggressive research and more money for research," said Moira. The treatment for her mother's cancer, for instance, is the same treatment that was used 10 years ago, which is unsatisfactory to her. She said clinical trials are needed to get drugs on the market quicker.

Getting involved in Relay for Life was "a lot to take on but pretty important," she said. "I was looking for a way to do something that gave me a little bit of control (over what was happening with my mother). It's a way to help."

Check out Moira's team, the White Mountain Walkers, at www.relayforlife.org/northcountrynh.

Judy Fox

Judy Fox's involvement with Relay for Life began five years ago when Shaw's manager Jerry Hite asked her to form a team from the Lancaster store where she is the customer service manager.

While several employees from the store are involved, including Jerry, Relay for Life has turned into a family event for Judy, who lists her husband, two of her daughters, one son-in-law, and four grandsons as members of the team, called Shaw's Lancaster Team America.

Judy had skin cancer 15 years ago and is a cancer survivor. She also lost her dad to cancer last December, and working on Relay for Life makes that loss more bearable, she said, because Relay is such a worthwhile event.

"We have to stop it (cancer) before it goes any farther," she said.

Everyone, young and old, is invited to stop by at Relay for Life and take part in the fun, said Judy. Survivors can participate in the opening ceremony — they lead the first lap around the field — and they can just show up that evening and register. People can come at anytime during the overnight event and listen to music, play games, visit with friends, and just have a good time. Each team, she said, has a campsite that they decorate and are judged on, which makes it a lot of fun for everyone. Especially touching is the luminaria ceremony, she explained, in which bags are placed around the field and lit in memory of those who have died from cancer and in honor of those who have survived the disease.

Susan Wall

"I really felt that when my dad was sick and when he died (of cancer almost two years ago), I needed to be more active in cancer advocacy and research, said Susan Wall, who will chair the Relay for Life event next year.

Her dad's cancer was inoperable, and that didn't make sense to her. "I wanted to get involved in raising awareness and money," she said.

After her dad's death she took a lot of time to reflect on him and all of his good qualities and the good things he did. "I wanted to grow up to be like him. I learned a lot from him. He motivated me to want to be a better person and to do things for the community," she said.

She is particularly sad that her children, especially her youngest who was born two months before her dad died, will never know the man she calls her "hero." "My dad was such a great guy," Susan said. "My kids aren't going to grow up with him. I don't think that anyone should suffer the pain we're suffering or he suffered."

When Susan moved back to Lisbon after her dad's death — she lives next door to her mom now — she joined the Relay team that her mother and co-workers at the Lisbon Wire Mill had formed. The team is called In Memory because it is in memory of her dad, Ray Pineo, who was 59 when he died of mesophelioma (typically caused by exposure to asbestos), and family friend Patty Smith, who died a month before Ray at age 45 from metastatic lung cancer that had spread to her brain.

Susan admits she was afraid to spend 17 hours at her first Relay for Life, but figured she had to stick it out or face her mother's wrath for the rest of her life. In the end, she said, "It was one of the best times of my life. It's fun. It's totally worth staying up all night."

This year she became a team captain and is the on-line coordinator chairperson. Next year she'll take on the mantle of event chairperson.

"My mission is awareness," said Susan. Over the Memorial Day weekend she ran in the Lilac Festival 5k race, wearing a mask and a purple cape. Her kids and some of her teammates' kids walked in the parade wearing purple capes, all in the effort to raise awareness. She also has a Facebook page she uses to promote the American Cancer Society's mission.

"If people are looking for a way to pay it forward or give back to the community, then Relay is a good way," said Susan. "It's whatever you can commit. Anybody who wants to be involved, we can find a place for."

The opening ceremony for Relay for Life of the North Country will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 20 and the event will conclude at around 8 a.m. on Sunday, June 21.

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