Marco celebrates 30 years of Relay for Life
25 teams participated in the ‘Cook’n Up a Cure’ event
On Saturday, Marco Island cancer survivors, caregivers, family, and friends gathered for Relay for Life at Veterans Community Park.
The six-hour event presented by Robert J. Flugger began at 4 p.m. Cathy Nelson officiated the opening ceremony. The Knights of Columbus Honor Guard displayed Old Glory while Marva Sutt led the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem.
“We all have our own stories, but they are all really the same story,” Cathy Nelson said. “We have had too many people in our lives affected by cancer, and we are just not willing to lay down and let cancer win.
“We are winning the fight, and there are many more cancer patients surviving and thriving year after year. That is why I relay and why I will never give up.”
Samantha Malloy presented city employee, Julie Broxson with the Spirit Award. “Julie is an inspiration ... a true champion. She came to work each day with a smile, even after treatments,” tearfully explained Samantha Malloy.
Joan Hackbarth accepted the Caregiver Award in memory of her mother Janet Whitebook (who passed away in January) for her tireless efforts in caring for her family and for the American Cancer Society. She also started the Marco Island Cancer Support Group 28 years ago.
“My mom’s message to everyone would be to keep carrying that torch of love and keep fighting the fight,” Hackbarth said.
After the opening ceremony with awards and inspirational speeches, survivors lined up for the opening lap. The “Rocky” theme song played while spectators and supporters cheered as the survivors followed the Honor Guard for the first official lap of the relay. Caregivers joined in during the second lap.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. Last year was my first relay as a survivor, it was a lot more emotional than I thought it would be. I thought this year being done with treatment and procedures that it would be less so, but I found myself tearing up during the survivor lap,” Megan Olsen said. “It’s nice to see so many people are out here in the community. It really does take a lot of people to get you through cancer treatments. I am now cancer free ... onward and upward.”
Following the opening laps, the survivors and caregivers were treated to dinner and Bingo at the New Life Community Church. Meanwhile at Veterans Community Park, Celtic Spirit Dancers and the Shane Totten Band entertained the walkers. Food stands, games, and a bouncy house kept the participants entertained, as well.
“My wife fought cancer for six years. She was originally diagnosed with cervical cancer and then it moved to her abdomen. It was super aggressive. We tried everything. Today, we are here to celebrate Kati,” Justin Lewkowitz said.
“I know what it’s like to be a caregiver. My husband is a two-time cancer survivor. In the past seven years, I’ve been a caregiver for my mother, my father, my husband, and my best friend. My husband is the only one who has survived. The most amazing thing about my husband is that he always had the most positive spirit throughout treatment. I noticed tonight that all the survivors have that same positive spirit and willingness to do for others,” Donna Drasdis said.
At 9 p.m., as darkness covered Marco Island, the luminaria bags glowed. Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” played during the somber, memorial walk. A moment of silence followed at the end of the song.
Only sniffles and sobs could be heard.
DJ Steve Reynolds lightened the mood by playing Rare Earth’s “Get Ready,” turning the event from somber to celebratory. The remaining participants continued to make laps around the luminaries until 10 p.m.