Five City staff to walk 24 hours in honor of officer diagnosed with lymphoma
Rockford police officer Ian Graham isn’t sure how long he’ll be at this year’s Relay For Life, which begins at 3 p.m. Friday, May 15. He thinks he’ll still be pretty sick from Wednesday’s chemo treatment.
The 30-year-old husband and father of one (with one on the way) was diagnosed 12 weeks ago with Hodgekin’s lymphoma.
As a show of support, five co-workers at Rockford City Hall-including City Manager Michael Young-will be 24-hour walkers at Relay. Hired by the Rockford Police Department a year ago, Graham is just one story of many that are represented by the hundreds of people who attend Rockford Relay For Life.
This year will also be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone who desires to become part of cancer-fighting history. Rockford was chosen from over 5,000 communities to help sign up a half million people in a lifetime wellness study. It takes only a few minutes, a little blood and will only be available from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday at Relay, which is held at North Rockford Middle School. Dr. Shibler, Rockford school superintendant, will be the first to sign up, Young will be the second.
For Graham, being diagnosed with cancer proved to him how much support is appreciated while fighting the disease. As a newer employee, he didn’t have many sick days. He figured he’d have to take days off following chemo without pay. Rockford Police Chief Dave Jones wouldn’t hear of it. He enlisted City Treasurer Kim McKay to see what could be done. McKay sent out an email asking if other City workers would donate their sick days to Graham. Before the week was out there were 296 hours of sick leave donated to Graham.
Chief Jones said Graham has been able to continue working, only missing days following chemotherapy. “He does his best and he’s in the best of spirits,” Jones said. Graham said he feels optimistic about his prognosis, and being in law enforcement has probably better prepared him than most people to hear they have cancer. “As an officer, we know there may be a day we don’t come home. It’s a thought process we’ve already been through,” he said. The overwhelming support he’s received he didn’t expect. “I really feel honored. You get to a point where you just don’t have words to express how you feel.”
Graham said there is no wake-up call like visiting a cancer center to realize how sick you are-versus how sick you could be. “Attitude is not optional,” Graham said of his optimism. “I could have a bad attitude. I see people who have it so much worse. I’m fighting it, but I’ve seen people who have been fighting it for years.”
Organizer Carol Delp-Korzeja said Relay continues to grow and has raised 1.75 million dollars for the American Cancer Society-before counting this year’s donations. In its seventh year, Relay has the participation of every school in the district and is recognized as one of the most successful Relays in the country.
“It’s the passion. A lot of people have lost their jobs and are still donating money,” she said.
There will be activities all through the 24-hours of Relay. Delp-Korzeja said she hopes to see more survivors during the reception at 10 a.m. and walk at noon on Saturday. All cancer survivors are invited.
“People that don’t understand Relay have to go once and then they’ll get it. It’s powerful.”