Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Relay for Life / Survivor's Walk

Survivor's Walk 2011
Norlanco Relay for Life

Katelyn During Treatment
It was the winter of 1999 and my seven year old daughter Katelyn began to have problems with her balance and depth perception for some unknown reason.  After contacting her first grade teacher at Lititz Elementary it was also becoming noticeable in class.  Following a few appointments with an eye doctor and her pediatrician, an MRI was ordered to try and rule out the scary stuff.  However, the scan showed a brain tumor and our lives completely and suddenly turned upside down.  Within minutes I was talking on the phone with a pediatric neurosurgeon at Hershey Medical Center who told us to arrive at 8:00 the next morning with scans in hand so a team of surgeons could examine them.  Following a sleepless night, we arrived at the hospital to start the process that would save Katelyn's life.  I remember the neurosurgeon assigned to her case said the tumor was called a medulloblastoma and was most likely cancerous and may have spread to her spine.  He told us the cancer was operable and treatment should continue with radiation and chemotherapy to prevent it from returning.

Relay for Life Luminara
The doctor saw that I wasn't digesting the news well and told me I would have to be strong for her, that it would be hard work, and the upcoming years would be the toughest of our lives and put tremendous stress on our family and marriage.  Can you say... right between the eyes?  We were suddenly within the one percent of one percent category and feeling quite alone.  There were many supports available, including a family who was going through the same thing and were a few months ahead of us who could possibly offer support and guidance.  However, the connection never took place, as our contact family fell prey to financial stress, causing them to lose their home and then their marriage soon afterward.  The surgeon's warning resonated loud and clear.  We dug in our heels and faced it all head on together.  Following brain surgery, six weeks of daily radiation treatments  and a year and a half of chemotherapy, Katelyn had completed her treatment protocol and our family had stayed intact.  My wife Susan deserves much credit as her strength held us all together and took the lead as Katelyn's key caregiver.

Katelyn is Ready to Walk
Katelyn faced everything with courage and amazing strength of heart.  Following the end of her treatment, our family was able to celebrate by going to Disney World through the Make a Wish Foundation.  The decade since her final treatment has been full of challenges.  Katelyn contends with several disabilities caused by unavoidable permanent side effects from her treatment including mild mental retardation, some issues with her overall balance, and mild hearing loss, which requires her to wear hearing aides.  However, she is surprisingly independent and is learning to adapt to the challenges she continues to face everyday.  Following annual MRI scans for many years to check for any sign of returning cancer, which were incredibly stressful for all of us, Katelyn finally received her walking papers.  We made it through the long journey of darkness to the bright light at the end of the tunnel and out into the sunlight! 

Kyle Kealey Kicks Off the Relay
My wife and I have been working part-time on weekends as inventory clerks at Brown's Bearing and Transmission in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for the past several years.  We noticed that the vending machines in the warehouse store advertised that all their vending profits went into the Relay for Life fund for Team Kealey.  The business is owned by the Kealey family who sponsor an annual fundraising team that participates in the Relay for Life of Norlanco event, hosted by Cocalico High School.  Our family had briefly visited a previous event many years ago at Millersville University but have never been officially involved with Relay for Life.  We decided to inquire about Team Kealey and possibly take part in the event.  Ironically, Joe and Kyle Kealey were the honorary Chair and Caregiver in the 2010 event and were again part of the leadership team this year as Entertainment Co-Chair members.  We were warmly welcomed aboard and planned to participate in the Survivors Walk during the opening day ceremony.  We wanted to see what it was all about and maybe become more involved in the future.

Fellowship of Survival and Hope
The Relay for Life is currently the largest fund raising event for the American Cancer Society.  The event was first created by a doctor in the state of Washington named Dr. Gordon Klatt in 1985.  The surgeon wanted to create a fundraiser to honor cancer patients and to generate funds to help the search for a cure.  He walked and ran around the track in Beaver Stadium at the University of Puget Sound for 24 straight hours.  Along the way, he was joined by friends and supporters who made a donation of $25 to join his marathon in 30 minute segments.  By the time he finished his final lap, Dr. Klatt had covered over 80 miles and raised over $27,000 for the American Cancer Society.  The following year he formed a team to make the event an annual tradition each spring and hoped other communities would follow his example.  Over time, the 24-hour fundraising event has grown to include approximately 5,000 communities across the country, involving over 4,000,000 volunteer participants in an average year.  

The Survivor's Walk
It was going to be a busy day!  The Relay for Life event kicks off on a Friday afternoon and I had just finished my final full day of teaching eighth grade of the current school year an hour earlier.  In addition, my son Tyler was leaving for a week-long trip to South Carolina with his best friend's family later in the day.  As a result, Mom was home helping him do his final prepping and packing for the trip.  Katelyn and I arrived on the busy scene of Cocalico High School's stadium and explored the grounds looking for Team Kealey's campsite.  Since the relay is a 24-hour event, many teams maintain a festive campsite where participants stay the weekend and take shifts, walking throughout the night.  The relay walking is complimented by many side events including a pie eating contest, a dunk tank, karaoke on stage, a snoring contest, and a tug-of-war between relay teams... just to name a few.  Walking around an oval on and off for 24 hours straight can get a little mundane, so to spice things up themed laps take place every few hours.  Some of the highlights from this year's event included... the Inner Tube Lap, Crazy Hat Lap, Sunglasses and Beach Ball Lap, Support Out Troops Lap, and Hawaiian Shirt and Flip Flops Lap. 

Opening Ceremony Starting Line
Katelyn and I soon found Joe and Kyle Kealey who were busy running around with last minute details before the ceremony officially began.  We got Katelyn signed in where she received the official purple event t-shirt.  We decided to take a few laps to get warmed up and explore more of the stadium in the process.  The track was lined with hundreds of illumination bags supporting a loved one who was currently fighting the disease or to memorialize someone who had lost their battle.  The Illumination Ceremony takes place during the first evening of the event, when the candles within each bag are lit, as darkness falls, to honor the person each one represents.  We made our way around the track and then explored the colorful tent city of overnight campers and the rows of decorated RV vehicles parked in a lot nearby.  We found the Team Kealey RV but it was empty as everyone was on the field getting ready for the Opening Ceremony, which was about to begin. 

Event Officially Underway
Next we headed to the big-top Survivors Reception and Advocacy Tent where everyone was gathering for a welcome meal and opening remarks.  Kyle Kealey started things off by addressing the crowd that was now packed inside the tent and seated at tables as food was being prepared at one end.  As we made our way through the food line I was surprised to see my high school football coach Mark Snyder serving up dessert.  One fact that is clearly evident from the start is how many people give their time and energy to organize an event of this size.  It is an extended family of dedicated volunteers who put in countless hours working together to create the Relay for Life year after year.  Many are cancer survivors themselves or are connected to the disease in some other way.  Each has their own story and selflessly give back in an effort to help fight cancer, hoping to force cancer to the ranks of defeated diseases.   With everyone's continued efforts, perhaps cancer can go the way of polio, smallpox, the bubonic plague, etc, and be conquered, sparing future generations.     

Survivor's Walk
In addition to all the volunteers, a big thank you goes out to all the corporate sponsors, large and small, who donate funding and products to the cause.  After the meal and a heartfelt presentation by this year's 2011 Honorary Chair and Caregiver participants, the crowd made their way to the starting line of the Cocalico track.  The highlight of the Opening Ceremony is the Survivor's Walk celebration where people who have beaten cancer take the opening lap categorized by the number of years they distanced themselves from the disease.  The ribbon was cut, streamers flew through the air, and they were off, led by the Relay for Life banner carried by the Honorary Chair and Caregiver.  Katelyn was in the 11-15 years free of cancer group and was the youngest by far.  She may have been one of the youngest walking the Survivors Lap in any category.  It was quite an accomplishment, reflecting back on all she and our family had been through since she was first diagnosed over a decade earlier.   

The Crowd Laps the Track
As the Survivor's Walk continued around the track, the survivors were cheered on by the enthusiastic crowd that filled the bleachers and lined the perimeter of the field.  I jumped in to join Katelyn on the next lap and we put in about a mile before we took a short break from the afternoon heat.  Over the next few hours Katelyn and I put in our share of laps together to support the cause.  My son Tyler was soon leaving for his first extended stay away from home and we both wanted to get home to say goodbye before his departure.  We made the rounds around the Cocalico stadium to try and thank as many people as possible for all their hospitality and everything they had done to support the cause.  In the end, Team Kealey had raised almost $8,600 for the 2011 Norlanco Relay for Life earning Platinum status for their successful team effort.  Congratulations and a big thank you to Team Kealey and everyone who supported this great cause!

Coach Snyder Serving up Cake
Since the Relay for Life was first created in 1986 the event has spread across the country to include all 50 states and beyond to include 21additional countries around the globe.  The combined efforts have raised over three billion dollars for cancer research to date and still counting!  The effort has even gone virtual as an online phenomenon called the Relay for Life Second Life, which has generated over $1,200,000 since it first hit the internet in 2004.  In 2011 the online effort raised $374,000, receiving contributions from over 80 different countries around the world.  The 2012 Norlanco Relay for Life at Cocalico High School is scheduled this year for the weekend of June 15th.  Hope to see you there!  Check out the Relay for Life website to learn information about upcoming local events and teams forming near you at the following web address... 

Katelyn Taking a Lap
Katelyn is currently navigating her way into the adult world, following her high school graduation two years ago.  It has been difficult for her to see most of her friends learn to drive, go off to college, or get full time jobs.  Like most young adults with disabilities, Katelyn is struggling to find a meaningful place within the complexities of the real world.  Over the past year, she has been working as a substitute part-time cafeteria worker at the Warwick Middle School, where I am a teacher and she was once a student.  She is currently working with the agency OVR (Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation) to explore other employment opportunities and potential services that may help her live more independently in the future.  Katelyn loves art and practices her craft regularly by creating drawings and paintings.  Her dream is to become a published cartoonist.  She also spends much of her free time caring for her puppy, Maxwell.  

 Katelyn with Maxwell

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