Relay for Life for survivors’ birthdays

Sheila Gunneson was diagnosed with breast cancer last month and had surgery last week. Her daughter’s lacrosse team dressed in pink socks and headbands in her honor at their most recent game. Gunneson is pictured in center with Grace Gunneson to the left and coach Dave Vandermolen at far right.

Event is this Friday and Saturday; every Relayer has a story

WHY WE RELAY—Maddie Tomasko, an 11-year-old Crestwood Elementary School student was diagnosed with leukemia. She is currently in inpatient chemotherapy for six months and talks to her classmates during their recess each day on Skype. She is pictured here with her “true love,” Hunter, her Britteny spaniel. See Team Maddie at this year’s Relay.


Impressive numbers—$2.46 million raised and last year over 400 cancer survivors honored in the survivor’s lap of Rockford Relay for Life—prove the event is incredibly successful, but misses the point of the real impact of Relay.

Carol Delp-Korzeja said the event is about cancer survivors and the money raised is for research to fight cancer for more survivors celebrating more birthdays in the future. “It’s not about the money,” Delp-Korzeja said. “Every person has been touched by cancer, has had someone in their family fight cancer, has known someone who was lost to cancer.” Every relayer has their own story to tell and reason to Relay.

Rockford’s Relay for Life is an American Cancer Society fundraiser, a 24-hour event, which kicks off at North Rockford Middle School at 3 p.m. Friday, May 19 with the Rockford Fire Department leading the first lap around the track. Events take place all evening and night, with popular favorites such as the Miss Relay event (the man dressed as Miss Relay receiving the most tips wins) with the theme of Miss Birthday Princess, and the silent Luminaria lap with luminarias dedicated in the memory of a loved one, which takes place as dusk falls over campsites and booths.

Cancer survivors are the guests at Relay for Life and Delp-Korzeja hopes even more will take the survivor’s lap—one of the most emotional moments of an already inspiring event. A brunch for survivors begins Saturday, May 20 at 10 a.m. followed by the survivor’s lap at noon. “We don’t really have set goals, but if we did, I would like to see more survivors,” said Delp-Korzeja. “If we have 425 survivors, that would be wonderful.”

For Delp-Korzeja teammate Karole Murphy of the Desperate Housewives team, Relay is also about survivors. She calls the event “the most gratifying, tiring and emotional 24 hours of the year. In my profession as an oncology nurse, I am witness to hundreds of people every year that have been told ‘You have cancer,’ “ Murphy described. “Many are present in my care during their battle because they need help in the fight. Some victoriously leave cancer behind, but not forgotten. They are forever changed by their journey. There are the proud few that don’t quit in failure, but graciously bow their head, and choose their own destiny. They agree on their terms to rest dignified, and deservingly at the end of their battle. I have so much respect for them all. Many I have the pleasure to call friend.”

This year, Crestwood Elementary School students are joining to stand behind their classmate Maddie Tomasko, 11, just diagnosed with leukemia. Team Maddie, part of the Crestwood Rocks! Relay team, has been holding fundraisers in their friend’s name. Maddie is in inpatient chemotherapy for six months and her prognosis is good pending her response to treatment. Each day during recess, Maddie’s class talks to her at the hospital via Skype. They watch her light up as she connects with her classmates. On Friday, look for the sea of orange at Relay as Team Maddie walks for her from 7 to 9 p.m.

Sheila Gunneson was diagnosed with breast cancer last month and had surgery last week. Her daughter’s lacrosse team honored her by wearing pink socks and headbands at their most recent lacrosse game. She said she will be at Relay, her first time there. “You don’t think about it or think it could be you or your family until it is,” she said.

Delp-Korzeja said she is always most moved by the number of survivors represented at Relay. The first year Rockford held Relay, there were 75 survivors. Last year there were 402 at the event. “Anything we can do to get the word out, we want to do,” she said. “We want to find the cures and provide for more survivors having more birthdays.”


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