By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PLATTSBURGH — A cancer diagnosis jump-starts one of the biggest challenges a person can face in a lifetime.
The need to stay positive, active and determined are all major components that a cancer patient must embrace to better meet the challenge.
But those with cancer seldom face those challenges alone. Caregivers become an integral part of the treatment plan for anyone who is battling the life-changing diagnosis.
This year’s annual Relay for Life is Friday and Saturday at the Clinton County Fairgrounds, and will feature a special tribute to the caregivers — the loved ones, friends and even neighbors — who assist the patient with everyday needs.
“It really makes you sit back and think about life,” said Ann Thurber, this year’s chairperson for the Relay for Life. She was a caregiver for both her father-in-law, Gordon Thurber, and her brother, Jan Brickey.
“When you can share your experiences in a group with an event like Relay, you realize that we are all hugely impacted by cancer.”
When her father-in-law became sick, Thurber returned to her hometown in Northfield, Vt., to provide care and comfort for him up to his death in 2008. That experience influenced her to become involved in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life the next season.
“I’ve become very passionate about American Cancer Society events,” she said. “Once I joined, I can’t get out of it. I love it, love the people who deal with (cancer) every day. They have so much to teach us.”
Cancer and its traumatic impact on people became even more apparent to Thurber when her brother was diagnosed with advanced head and neck cancer, and she traveled again to Northfield to become his caregiver over the final weeks of his life.
“I told my boss that I needed to be with him, and he understood,” she said of her opportunity to spend that end time with Brickey, who died in 2010 at the age of 54.
“When it hit my father-in-law, it was very tough; when it hit my brother, it was close to home,” she said. “I knew then that I have to do more to help people with cancer and their families and caregivers.”
During the kickoff meeting for the 2010 Relay for Life, Thurber met with American Cancer Society representative Joan Sterling about her desire to honor caregivers at the annual fundraiser along with the survivors and those battling the illness.
“I told her that caregivers needed to be recognized in some way, that caregivers are a very important part of cancer treatment and cancer survivorship,” she said.
The two agreed to form a new committee for recognizing caregivers, and that has now become an important part of the Relay for Life festivities.
“We recognize them along with the survivors,” Thurber said, noting that 67 caregivers were on hand in 2010, and that number has grown to 214 members in 2012.
Relay for Life 2013 kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday with opening ceremonies followed by the cancer survivors’ first lap at 7:30 p.m. The popular luminaria ceremony dedicated to those who have died as well as those who are currently battling cancer or who have survived begins at 10 p.m.
This year’s theme is “Let’s Get Physical: Kicking Cancer’s Butt” to promote healthy diet and exercise in preventing and treating cancer.
Thus far, 109 teams and 1,046 participants have signed up for the Plattsburgh Relay for Life. The event has raised more than $134,000 to date.
“We actually have as many as 4,000 people attend at any given time,” Thurber said of the event’s annual success. “Last year, we had 462 survivors, and we’re hoping to hit 500 this year.
“It’s just amazing to see that sea of purple T-shirts,” she added. “It’s very touching for us all.”
Eat Dessert First, a dedication to cancer survivors by the CVPH Medical Center, will also be held at 4 p.m. at the Fairgrounds prior to the Relay for Life. The event is free and open to the public.
Email Jeff Meyers:firstname.lastname@example.org
TO LEARN MORE
For more information on the 2013 Relay for Life in Plattsburgh or to donate to the cause, visit www.relayforlife.org/plattsburghny.
The Relay for Life begins at 7 p.m. Friday, June 14, at the Clinton County Fairgrounds.