By Logan Lawson
Kelli Tomjack and Lisa Bilstein are just two of the many survivors that want to honor those that have battled cancer and continue to make a difference in the fight against the disease.
Bilstein, Tomjack and many other survivors will be participating in the Holt County Relay for Life Saturday at the O’Neill High School track. The annual event kicks off at 6 p.m. with the opening ceremonies in which cancer survivors will have the opportunity to introduce their selves and give a history of their battles with cancer. As soon as the opening ceremonies are complete, the event will really get moving with the Survivor’s Lap. The opening lap is always an emotional event and this year’s lap will be no different thanks to a few special men in the color guard.
“There’s four men doing this color guard,” Tomjack explained. “They are all cancer survivors.”
Throughout the night, there will be various games, food and entertainment for those people that are not walking at the time. All proceeds from Relay for Life are set to be donated to the American Cancer Society to help aid in research and support for individuals currently battling cancer. Tomjack, a breast cancer survivor, has already been a beneficiary of that research.
“One thing that they were able to come up with was a drug called Tamoxifen,” she explained. “For breast cancer patients, you take this pill every day for ten years and that’s supposed to prevent it from coming back. That’s just one example of what the American Cancer Society has done for me.”
Bilstein, also a breast cancer survivor, is celebrating a special milestone at this year’s event.
“It’s been ten years since I was diagnosed,” she said.
In June, 2006, Bilstein was diagnosed with breast cancer at only 37 years old. After enduring various treatments, including chemotherapy and surgery, she was fortunate to finish active treatment less than a year later, in March, 2007. Her battle led her to get involved with Relay for Life.
“I felt like I needed to do something,” she explained. “I also do it to show my kids how to give back to the community.”
Bilstein notes that, especially in the smaller communities around Northeast Nebraska, it’s very common to know somebody that is fighting cancer. This year, it is someone close to her heart.
“My mom just got diagnosed again in April,” she said. “This is her third bout with it.”
After fighting her own battle and seeing her mom repeatedly fight cancer, it gave Bilstein added motivation this year to make the event more successful. Her team, the “Pink Ribbon Racers”, has spent time working to raise donations to help make the night successful.
Bilstein and Tomjack, along with the rest of the committee, have both spent countless hours helping to organize this year’s relay. There hard work will pay off Saturday, as both are excited for the event to kick off. They both also share a favorite part in the event.
“The survivor lap means a lot, but also the luminary service is just really a time to think about those that have gone before us,” Tomjack said. “It gets a little emotional.”
The relay is not only for people who have been directly affected by cancer. Anyone who is wanting to make a difference in their community is invited and encouraged to attend. It is not a requirement to have a team or to have helped with anything beforehand. Everyone is welcome to check out the festivities of the day and learn more about how they can help in the future.
“We just want people to come out and see what it’s all about,” Tomjack said.
Tomjack hopes that the relay can be inspirational for those currently fighting a battle with cancer. She stressed that anyone who is dealing with the disease should seek support to help work their way through the treatments. She also emphasizes never to give up hope.
“Fight as hard as you can,” she urged. “It is a big fork in the road but with technology today and support from others, I really think that more and more people are fighting and winning.”
The Holt County Relay for Life is Saturday at the O’Neill High School track. The event starts at 6 p.m. and is scheduled to continue until midnight. The survivor committee will be hosting a breakfast Saturday morning as well for survivors and caregivers.