By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — For Relay for Life volunteers, an intimate and personal experience with a much-feared disease has brought them to the point where they can help others.
Kathy Shaker, a member of the Clifton Park Relay for Life committee, is a soon-to-be retired teacher in the Waterford-Halfmoon School District. She is also a breast cancer survivor.
Shaker became involved with the relay when a former student who was aware of Shaker’s diagnosis urged her to become involved. Shaker was going through the tail end of her chemotherapy treatment when she started her work with Relay for Life, and has brought a school team to the event for the past 11 years.
Shaker said that many of the volunteers who become involved with the Relay for Life do so after a friend or family member has been diagnosed with cancer, or been diagnosed themselves.
“It’s mostly those people who get involved,” she said about the reasons for becoming an anti-cancer activist. “Mine was more direct.”
Upon receiving their cancer diagnosis, many people have no idea where to find support, Shaker said. She was able to learn some things from her cousin in Detroit who had battled cancer. But locally, she was at a loss as to where to go.
“I didn’t know anything,” she said. “You’re kind of going around in a daze. You don’t know where to turn.”
Shaker explained that, upon the initial cancer diagnosis, patients don’t know what they need to know and often, they don’t even know what questions they should be asking. Most people, she said, just want the cancer to be gone.
“People just want this surgery done yesterday,” she said.
Shaker went online immediately after being diagnosed with breast cancer to find out anything that she could about the disease, and she recommended others start online as well just to get a basic knowledge of the path ahead.
Advice for Others
She also recommended that people take advantage of 24-hour 800 numbers meant to provide support at any time, and to always have an advocate and note-taker during doctor appointments. Shaker said that while she was going to her appointments, she was so shaken up that she had no way to remember everything the doctor was telling her that she needed to remember. So, she said, her husband accompanied her to take notes.
“Always have an advocate with you,” she said.
Clifton Park’s Relay for Life, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, was held on Friday, June 9 at the Shenendehowa High School track from 6 p.m. until midnight. During Relay for Life, participants create teams, and at least one person from the team is supposed to be walking around the track at all times. For the first lap, cancers survivors walk one way on the track, while their caregivers walk the opposite way. Halfway through, when the two groups meet, they then walk in the same direction. There were around around 250 participants at last year’s event.
The goal of events like Relay, Shaker said, are to increase awareness about support programs that are available, and to get everyone, including doctors and nurses, on the same page with cancer support education. A year after she had been volunteering with Relay for Life, Shaker said she knew about programs that she had no idea existed before getting involved with the event.
“We need to get the word out,” she said.