Cancer survivors, caretakers, friends and families gathered at the Herkimer Elementary School on Saturday to celebrate a day filled with hope at the Herkimer County Relay For Life.
According to American Cancer Society Director of Special Events and Herkimer Relay for Life staff partner Steph Boucher this year marks 14 years of the Relay For Life and the fourth year that it has taken place in Herkimer.
“This year we have 39 teams that have signed up for the Herkimer relay which is the average amount of teams so were really happy with the turn out even with the wet weather,” she said.
The relay began a victory lap in which with cancers survivors walked the first quarter lap and finished the lap along with their caretakers.
“It’s really important to not only acknowledge all the survivors but the caregivers equally because when they are fighting the disease they are fighting through the entire process together,” Boucher said.
This past May, the American Cancer Society turned 100 and as part of relay events the birthday celebration was included.
“This year will be a long celebration where we acknowledge the history and all of the progress made throughout the organizations existence and were looking forward to the next 100 years where hopefully we can say we have found a cure for cancer but we have made a lot of progress and we a hopeful to someday find a cure,” Boucher added.
New to the relay this year to help celebrate the American Cancer Society’s birthday was a desert sculpture contest in which relay teams made desert sculptures out of fruit.
“The creativity we’ve seen is amazing and it’s a nice way to marry the need for desert with a healthy alternative,” Boucher said.
The desert sculpture contest winning team was Knights Who Remember of Frankfort.
Cancer Survivor and team member of Winfield Survivors and Angels Sue Sullivan said it was her first year at the relay along with her team.
“It’s been very emotional and it’s been a long haul so it’s nice to have something to raise cancer awareness that benefits a cure for cancer,” Sullivan said.
“There are so many cancer survivors in West Winfield and so many varieties of cancer that has affected them all and we’ve created a team of survivors, caregivers, and friends and families of those who have lost a loved one to cancer,” said Judy Ludemann, Winfield Survivors and Angels team founder.
Cancer survivor Cassandra Pagnotta was diagnosed at three and half months with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer in the abdomen. After battling the disease for several years Pagnotta, now 16-years old entered into remission two years ago.
“We always keep an eye out and go for visits to the doctor every year to be safe but in the past she underwent several types of treatment including a bone marrow transplant, Stem Cell Apheresis, Chemotherapy radiation all before she was a year old,” said Vickie Pagnotta, Cassandra’s mother.
Page 2 of 2 - “It feels wonderful to be able to do this especially since it all goes to research for future treatments and it’s just a great event,” she added.
For the event Cassandra and her family and friends joined together as Team Cassandra to celebrate the Relay For Life.
The team’s uniform included matching neon colored T-shirts with inspirational quotes such as hope and cure.
“I like helping other people out and others have helped me so it’s nice to give back to those who need help,” Cassandra Pagnotta added.
Rick Fureno of Frankfort is one person who knows what it means to help others since working as a Fed Ex driver who delivered Pagnotta’s medication during her illness.
“I remember when I first found out she was sick and it was just in shock. It’s a blessing that Cassandra is doing well now and I still deliver medication to other people it’s both heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time,” Fureno said.
As part of Relay For Life team Nancy’s Survivors cancer has also affected Fureno to close to home when his wife, Nancy Fureno was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago. Nancy Fureno is now in remission after undergoing cancer treatment and walked in the relay along side her husband, family and friends.
“These past few years have been a whirl wind but I firmly believe the American Cancer Society saved my wife’s life,” Rick Fureno added.