Elk Lake Elementary students celebrated survivors and offered support for those battling cancer while they raised more than $25,000 in its Mini Relay for Life one Saturday in November.
The annual event benefits the American Cancer Society and its programs for cancer patients.
At least 25 survivors attended the event and walked the Survivors’ Lap around the gym, where students, faculty, friends, and relatives formed an inner circle of support and applauded, hugged, and high-fived those who had been declared cancer free or were still fighting a battle against the disease.
James Bennett, of Montrose, walked the survivors’ lap around the gym in head-to-toe camouflage attire. Despite having stage 3 stomach cancer for the second time, he is working on the family dairy farm every day. Bennett said surgery does not seem to be a solution and is starting chemotherapy again. “It came back about a year ago,” he said. His wife, Jennifer, attended the mini-relay with him in support.
Danielle McMicken, of Springville, attended with her five-year-old daughter, Isabel. “I found out I was pregnant with her when I went to check on a lump I’d found,” she said. “It was a lymph node. It was caught early. It was awfully scary, but it makes you appreciate a lot of things.”
Wearing an artfully wrapped white head scarf, Brandy Golden walked the survivors’ walk. In August, she finished treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and goes for her first three-month check up since beating the disease later this month.
Skin cancer survivor Kristie Baker has a story to tell. Her cousin made a YouTube video about her journey about five years ago. “I was a tanner, a bigtime tanning lover,” she said. “Then I found a lump. When I asked for that to be checked, it turned out I had skin cancer in several places, and melanomas internally as well in my abdomen and elsewhere.” She has learned to cherish her health and promote awareness.
Sheila Stonier, a retired businesswoman from Tunkhannock, attended the mini-relay with her daughter, Shawn Carey, and a grandson. She has been cancer-free for five years. Thanks to early detection of uterine and ovarian cancer, surgery caught the disease in time, and no chemotherapy or radiation was necessary. Stonier said that she and her husband, George, operated Ace-Stonier in Tunkhannock.
Many of those attending were gratified to see the return of Rebekah Burke, who carried a newborn daughter at last year’s mini-relay. At that time, Burke was about to begin chemotherapy.
This year, her one-year-old daughter was busy walking around the gym floor, and Burke has been cancer free since her hysterectomy several weeks ago.
Another survivor with a team of supporters was Patsy Gesford, elementary school secretary/receptionist. Gesford, who walked with family members and friends, managed to work in the elementary office throughout her treatment process, and serves as an inspiration to many.
Outside the elementary school, a bench has been installed in memory of Priscilla Carey, a longtime elementary school staff member, who died of cancer in October 2016. Surrounding the bench are many colorful painted rocks in her memory, with themes of kindness and rainbows.
Brooke Arnold, an Elk Lake junior and cancer survivor, led the games and dances.
Elk Lake second grader Halle Brooks attended for the beginning of the event, which fell on her birthday. She is in remission now, but for several years she was going to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia for treatment and surgery, an event spokesperson said.
The Elk Lake Mini Relay is coordinated by Louise Hicks and Ginger Shadduck. Elementary music teacher Ryan Berry served as disc jockey, and Principal Marc Weisgold provided enthusiastic support. Weisgold helped raised funds by selling $1 pieces of duct tape to the students, letting the kids duct tape him to the gym wall, and then busting loose at the kickoff of the event. Much of the fundraising is carried out by the Kiwanis sponsored K Kids club, and by fifth and sixth-grade students and their teachers.
Shadduck announced the top fundraisers during the closing ceremony. Four fifth grade students raised more than $1,000 each. Jayce Caines, the first place fundraiser in fifth grade, won a Fit Bit for raising $3,324; Gina Warnero raised $1,355; Hannah Howell raised $1,180; and Dawson Sherman raised $1,115. Sixth grader Kennedy Powers raised $600; Cohen Farrell raised $333; and Jillian Gustin raised $289.
All participants received a certificate and a camo dog tag necklace that said “Hope.” High fundraisers received prizes, such as T-shirts and sweatshirts.
Shadduck said, “It strikes so close to home. I had Brooke Arnold in my class when she was in kindergarten, and she was fighting cancer then. It came back several times. She is beautiful and a wonderful, wonderful person. Another student, Tia Visavati, was in my class and midway through kindergarten was diagnosed, and then came back to my class for the second half of the next year. I remember when Jimmy Bennett’s son was in kindergarten.”
She added, “In this day and age there’s hardly anyone who hasn’t known someone affected by cancer, but this gives school children an idea of what it is like to fight and survive, it shows them that every little bit helps, and what the Cancer Society does for those who’ve been fighting. It shows them they can do something that can make a difference.”