Kathy Coppola heard her doctor say those three words: “You have cancer.”
“Those are words you never forget,” she said.
Following an annual exam six years ago, Coppola was diagnosed with bladder cancer. She beat it only to be diagnosed with colon cancer a few years later.
“It was devastating all around,” she said. “I had no symptoms either time.”
The two-time cancer survivor decided it was time to give back. Coppola got involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.
“If it helps one person, it’s perfect for me,” she said about the largest fundraiser to help fight cancer.
Relay For Life, which starts this Friday, is a unique event in which teams of eight to 15 members take turns walking the Gulfview Middle School’s track overnight. This year, Naples Relay for Life will celebrate 15 years as a major fundraising affair. For the past 10 years, it has been ranked the number one Relay out of 347 similar events in Florida and continues to be among the top nationwide in terms of fundraising.
“It is as much an awareness raiser about the progress against cancer as it is a fundraiser,” said Coppola, who is the Relay chairperson.
Teams seek sponsorship prior to Relay, all with the goal of eliminating cancer. When participants are not walking on the track, they are taking part in fun activities. There will be activities every half hour, an abundance of entertainment with donated refreshments and dozens of prizes, against a backdrop of thousands of luminaries around Gulfview’s track.
Additionally, a special luminary ceremony will be conducted in memory of those touched by cancer. Contributions can be made for a loved one who lost a battle with cancer and in honor of those who have survived the disease. A survivor’s lap, which is an emotional reminder of how Relay participants are ensuring more lives are saved each year, will be at 6 p.m. April 15. The caregivers lap will immediately follow.
“More than 500 survivors and caregivers were honored at the 2010 Relay when they walked together in the opening lap,” said Dianne Reed, a volunteer committee member. “Their spirit and determination inspires us all to find a cure.”
The fundraising goal has been set at $520,000 after more than $525,000 was raised last year. There has been approximately $300,000 raised to date. This year, Specialists in Urology will be the title sponsor with a pledge of $25,000.
“We are very honored and proud to be the title sponsor for the 2011 Relay For Life,” said Dr. William M. Figlesthaler, managing partner for the physicians at SIU. “In our practice, we treat patients who have cancer so we are committed to help them continue to celebrate birthdays.”
For the third year in a row, the Relay team at Quail Creek Country Club has so far raised more funds to fight cancer than any other Naples Relay team.
This year, before the race even begins, the Quail Creek team has already raised more than $81,000, thanks to leadership from Team Captain Kate Kerwin, the auction chair, Marcy Berenson, and the entire committee. Each one has been touched by cancer and knows their efforts are making a difference to produce more cures in our lifetime.
Nationally, the cancer death rate has slowly declined, but still, one out of four deaths in the country is from cancer. In 1946, only one in four cancer patients was still alive years after diagnosis; today 66 percent survive longer than five years. The National Cancer Institute estimates more than 11.1 million Americans have a history of cancer.
Relay For Life helps people touched by the disease heal and brings together friends, family, businesses, hospitals, schools and churches. It is not necessary to be on a team to help. Volunteers are needed to organize and recruit teams, seek help from the community, coordinate logistics, find refreshments and prizes, plan entertainment and simply lend their support. For more information on becoming a volunteer, visit www.relayforlife.org/naplesfl.
“We have unbelievable people,” said Coppola. “The committee is full of special people.”
The 2011 Relay For Life of Naples will kick off April 15 with more than 100 teams gathering with their tents and sleeping bags. This year’s theme is: Producing A Cure, Hollywood Movies.
“I have met some of the most inspiring people,” said Coppola, who is proof annual exams are important.