Dinner celebrates cancer survivors

Karen Wesbecker, left, hands a Relay for Life T-shirt to Monica Gutierrez of Lawrence at a Cancer Survivors’ Day dinner at Maceli’s. The Relay for Life will be Friday.


Douglas County cancer survivors will kick off the annual Relay for Life event at 7 p.m. Friday with a lap around the track at South Junior High School, 2734 La.

There will be a luminaria ceremony about 8:30 p.m. to honor survivors and to remember those who lost their lives to cancer.

The overnight event raises awareness and funds for the American Cancer Society. It is open to the public.

It was an evening of celebration in downtown Lawrence.

About 165 people gathered Sunday at Maceli’s to celebrate life. They were children, grandparents, mothers and fathers, and they all had one thing in common — cancer.

About half of them were cancer survivors and the rest were the loved ones who stood by during the fight.

Among those who attended the second annual Cancer Survivors’ Day dinner was 9-year-old Christian Faulkner, who was diagnosed with lymphoma in November 2005. Doctors had found a cancerous tumor draped over his lungs.

After two years of chemotherapy treatments, wearing a surgical mask and hospital stays, Christian had plenty to celebrate.

“He’s great. He’s in remission and has been in remission for about 18 months,” his mother, Amanda Faulkner, said. “You would never know that he was sick.”

Between eating dinner and cake, Christian decorated a flower with his name. It will be placed in the gratitude garden at the annual Relay for Life event on Friday. The overnight event raises awareness and funds for the American Cancer Society.

Christian will be among the survivors who kick off the event at 7 p.m. with a lap around the track at South Junior High School. It will be a much different experience than it was three years ago, when he made his first lap.

“He was sick from chemotherapy. He was really weak and his legs hurt, his whole body hurt,” Amanda said.

Christian used his late great-grandfather’s walker to get around the track. It was an experience that he and his family won’t soon forget.

“It was emotional, but it was so fulfilling to know that these people were out there raising money, and whether they knew our story or not, they were cheering for us,” Amanda said.

Lawrence resident Barb Parker, 53, will be making her first survivor’s lap this year, after being diagnosed with colon cancer just six months ago. It was discovered during a routine exam.

A teary-eyed Parker said she was lucky because doctors caught the cancer in time. She also had the friend sitting next to her at Sunday’s dinner to help her get through it.

That friend is Sheryl Saathoff, 49, Lawrence. She has participated in Relay for Life for about eight years, after her father died of cancer in 1999. Last year, instead of cheering on cancer survivors from the sidelines, she found herself making that lap herself. She was a breast cancer survivor. In her case also, the cancer was found during a routine exam.

The friends hugged each other after writing on flowers that will be placed in the gratitude garden. They had thanked one another and their families for support.

“I feel blessed every day — every minute of every day,” Parker said.

“Me, too,” Saathoff said, nodding.

Lawrence resident Mary Lou Warner, 88, has beaten cancer not once, but three times.

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1966 and then with breast cancer in 1997 and 1999. She said events like the survivor dinner and Relay for Life are reasons to celebrate. When she was first diagnosed with cancer more than 40 years ago, there was little awareness and support outside the immediate family.

“I hope my story gives other breast cancer survivors hope,” she said with a grin. “I am here. I celebrate life every day.”