Participants in support of Effingham County Relay for Life walked steadily through the night at Teutopolis Junior High track, sharing stories of solidarity, sadness and survival.
Cancer has had an immeasurable effect on society by taking loved ones from nearly every family tree on an often unexpected and profound path. Friday, a community united in support of the care and cure of those embattled by the disease.
A large crowd applauded survivors who were recognized for their years of living cancer free. Among those who were celebrating four years or less was Deb Ohnesorge. The breast cancer survivor received her final chemotherapy treatment last Wednesday. With a previous round of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy behind her, and an upcoming round of radiation therapy, the Altamont resident is looking forward to moving on with her life.
“I just want to put this behind me,” said Ohnesorge.
Medals were handed out to survivors of every age. At the other end of the spectrum, Pete Frese recounted his diagnosis 27 years ago as he spoke of a time when cancer treatments were less prevalent.
“There was no chemotherapy for my colon cancer back then,” he said.
According to Frese, doctors at Mayo Clinic considered radiation but decided against it and settled on removing a foot-long section of his colon.
“Dr. Boyajian treated me,” said Frese. “He said I was damn lucky to survive the cancer.”
Frese swears by regular colon exams to monitor the re-occurrence of cancerous polyps. Frese, who was diagnosed at age 45, said the experience changed his perspective on how to approach life.
“When you hear you have cancer, you think you are going to die,” said the longtime Effingham resident. “I thought I might die, but I’m not going to worry myself to death.”
His focus after surviving cancer was on what he described “as the only two important things in life.”
“You can be the richest man in town, but it doesn’t mean anything without God and family,” he said. “Surviving cancer makes you realize what is important in life.”
Husband and wife Leah and Kevin Colclasure spoke to the crowd about their experience with cancer.
“My name is Leah Colclasure,” she said. “I am a one-year and eight-month survivor of breast cancer. I started this journey in May 2012 when I found a lump in my left breast.”
Fighting tears, she recounted the phone call that brought her world down around her.
“On May 23, I got a phone call and I heard the words, ‘You have breast cancer,’” she said. “That is a hard phone call.”
Before formulating a plan with local physicians to fight the cancer, both she and her husband were “numb.”
“We sat, talked and cried,” she said.
Once doctors told her their plan for chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy, Leah decided to push past the diagnosis.
“I decided I wasn’t going to feel sorry for myself,” said Leah. “I tried to keep my life normal by being there for my husband and kids.”
Kevin said support within the community and church helped the couple endure the treatment.
“If it hadn’t had been for our church family and our Lord and Savior to give us the strength and encouragement that we needed, this whole journey would have been much more difficult then what it was,” said Kevin. “Words of encouragement go a long way.”
Large amount of local support was highlighted at booths spread throughout the grassy area around the track. Many local businesses offered various services for a suggested donation, which funds cancer research.
Funds raised during Relay for Life, which has existed in Effingham County for 13 years, go toward various support services for those battling cancer, according to Relay for Life Coordinator Ron Meitzner. Those services include a 24-hour helpline for cancer victims; Road to Recover, which offers rides to those receiving cancer treatments; and Look Good and Feel Better, which provides wigs to those who have lost their hair during chemotherapy.
“We hold this event to celebrate the survivor, remember the ones we have lost and fight back with much-needed funds,” said Meitzner, whose mother and sister-in-law both battled cancer.
Other activities included specialty laps around the track by cancer survivors, a pageant line-up at the mainstage, a silent auction, a luminaria ceremony, reading of names, bachelor auction, bags tournament, frozen T-shirt contest and a photo scavenger hunt.
“We have had such a great turnout,”said Meitzner.
Tony Huffman can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 138 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@Thuffman.