Community rallies for a cure

Cancer survivor Bonnie Leavitt, who is five years cancer free, models her T-shirt at “Survivor’s Tea” at the Heller Road Fire Station, Saturday Dec. 13.  - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Cancer survivor Bonnie Leavitt, who is five years cancer free, models her T-shirt at “Survivor’s Tea” at the Heller Road Fire Station, Saturday Dec. 13.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

The ability to help just one person makes it all worthwhile, Karla Sharkey, Relay for Life event chair, said.

That one person, in this instance, was an elderly man — a cancer survivor — who was re-diagnosed with the disease last week. The cancer also claimed his wife, Sharkey said.

He just needed someone to talk to about his situation. When the organization’s Channel 10 ad aired, he learned of Saturday’s Survivor’s Tea.

About 15 people showed at the tea, Relay for Life’s first holiday gathering, said Sharkey.

Snowflake cutouts hung from the ceiling, fruit, veggies and cookies filled a buffet table and event volunteers and guests sat around tables chatting among themselves in a room off the Heller Road Fire Station.

Breast cancer survivor Bonnie Leavitt sported a pink shirt with “save the tatas” printed on the front. Karen Crawford wore a purple sweater over her T-shirt, with a slogan not appropriate for print. She briefly flashed her shirt, which basically tells cancer to “bug off.”

Leavitt, who is five years cancer free, praised the MAC clinic at Whidbey General Hospital for their dedication to cancer patients.

The clinic offers survivor groups for prostate, breast and other forms of cancer and a resource room, among other programs for their patients, she said.

During her battle, she received a weekly call from a volunteer.

“Those Wednesday 8 o’clock calls meant so much to me,” she said of the caller’s dedication.

“It was just one human being talking to another,” she said, but the support and compassion made her battle more bearable.

Leavitt said that there are plenty of resources out there for cancer patients.

“Just ask the question, because there is something out there,” she said of financial and emotional assistance.

Gail Seelow, the event’s survivor chair, also beat breast cancer. But cancer didn’t get her involved in Relay for Life. A coworker signed her up for an event, and several years later at the age of 52, Seelow was diagnosed during a routine mammogram.

At the time, she didn’t know that breast cancer ran in her family, but since then her daughter and mother have been diagnosed.

Sharkey said the event is to help Relay reach survivors throughout the year.

The organization’s big annual event will take place on June 5 and 6 a North Whidbey Middle School.

“It’s like tent city,” Sharkey said of the 24-hour event.

Relay for Life will hold it’s kick-off to this year’s fundraising at the Elks Club Wednesday, Jan. 7 at 6:30 p.m., and will hold monthly Relay Rallies until their June event, she said.

Although Sharkey has never been diagnosed with cancer, she feels strongly about donating her time to help find a cure. The money raised through Relay for Life goes toward the American Cancer Society for cancer research, which has provided grant support to 42 scientists who have gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.

“We honor the survivors because they are why we relay,” she said.

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