JOHNSTOWN – For Marion Wilde, walking in the Relay for Life is about more than her own battle with cancer.
Wilde -who led the annual survivors lap Friday during the event at Fulton-Montgomery Community College – also walks in memory of her niece, for whom her team – Wendy’s Warriors – is named.
“It’s a challenge every day. But we enjoy meeting people who support us for this,” Wilde said.
A one year cancer survivor, Wilde said seeing survivors of 15 or more years gives her hope for not only her future, but that of the next generation.
“You have to keep hope and faith alive,” the Tribes Hill resident said.
Wilde was one of about 500 relay participants who took part in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Fulton-Montgomery counties. The 17th annual event kicked off Friday afternoon and was scheduled to run until 2 a.m. today.
By kickoff, the fundraiser had generated $70,000, with more money expected to flow in before the donation period ends in August.
Georgia Vieira Hanchar, with Relay for Life, said for a community the size of Fulton and Montgomery counties, that amount of money is remarkable and shows how much people care.
“Cancer effects everybody. There is barely one degree of separation for most people,” she said.
Organizer Jamin Clemente said the survivors lap is always a powerful moment for everyone in the crowd.
“They may still be battling [cancer] but they are still a survivor,” Clemente said.
During his speech to the crowd, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko pledged to continue to fight for funding for further cancer research.
“So many of us are reminded of those who battled so strongly and fiercely, who gave us hope along the way,” Tonko said. “People who really made a difference in their efforts.”
For keynote speaker Jennifer Bushey of Fonda, being a 20-year survivor means being an advocate for herself.
Bushey said she spent months being misdiagnosed before finding out she had a form of brain cancer in her early 20s. Bushey said her message to those going through treatment was to be their own advocate, since they are the only ones who can do it.
She also encouraged those going through treatment to keep hope alive and to remember to do things that are fun.
“Life is a blessing. To be here is a blessing,” Bushey said. “Throughout cancer you are allowed to have hope. You’re always allowed to have hope. You have to have hope, whether you’re in treatment or whether you’re a [long-time] survivor.”
Hanchar said that the goal of Relay for Life is to celebrate, remember and fight.
“We celebrate the people who are still with us, we remember the people who we lost and we fight to find a cure,” Hanchar said.
To donate to the Fulton-Montgomery Relay for Life, go online to relay.acsevents.org and search for Fulton Montgomery.