When Jeanne Bronoski joined the Douglas County Relay for Life Committee in its first year, she wasn’t a survivor. Her mother had battled cancer, and for the duration of the disease there was nothing Bronoski could do to help her. So, when the opportunity to join Relay for Life came around, Bronoski thought it was an appropriate way to honor her mom.
In 1998, Bronoski was diagnosed with cancer, and her daughter, like herself years earlier, showed her support through Relay for Life. She ran 44 laps, or 11 miles, during that year’s event.
“I just sat on the side with no hair and a stupid hat, but every lap told me she loved me,” Bronoski said.
Bronoski said her daughter wasn’t the only person who helped her fight her cancer battle. When Bronoski first started treatment she was sensitive to movements and couldn’t share a bed with her husband. He slept on the kitchen floor for 10 nights, because it was close to their bedroom and he could help her if she needed him.
Her story is just one of many that tell about the thoughtfulness and sacrifices that friends and family of cancer patients make.
“The caregivers, they’re the unsung heroes,” Bronoski said.
Bronoski said the people who take care of cancer patients often don’t get the thanks or recognition they deserve, which is why at the Douglas County Relay for Life event scheduled for Friday at the Free State High School track, there will be a Caregivers Lap to honor anyone who helped take care of a cancer patient.
“We’ve been trying to find ways to engage the caregivers more,” Douglas County Relay for Life co-chair Shelle Arnold said. “ They’re vital to the survivors and they can be honored whether their survivor is still living or not.”
Relay for Life is an all-night event where teams walk laps around a track through the night to represent the idea that cancer doesn’t sleep. It was started in 1985 in Washington when a surgeon walked for 24 hours to raise money in honor of his patients. He raised $27,000, and the idea caught on and the campaign spread throughout the world. Last year the Douglas County Relay for Life was the largest event in Kansas and raised more than $175,000 for the American Cancer Society for cancer research and assistance for cancer patients. This year, the organization’s goal is $190,000.
There will be a silent auction of more than 200 baskets filled with donated items such as signed sports memorabilia, spa packages, dance lessons and jewelry. Guests can also purchase a luminaria for $10 in remembrance of a loved one who is fighting or has died from cancer.
People can begin placing their luminarias around the track at noon Friday and team check-ins begin at 3 p.m. Silent auction bidding and activities begin at 5:30 p.m. and the opening ceremony is scheduled for 7 p.m. At 7:15 p.m., cancer survivors will talk a victory lap before the rest of the teams join them on the track to walk for the night. The Caregivers Lap will be at 8:30 p.m., the luminaria ceremony starts at 9:15 p.m., and there will be a “fight back” lap at 3 a.m. The closing ceremony and final lap are scheduled for 7 a.m. Saturday.
“I’m just looking forward to the day where we don’t have to do this because cancer is a done deal.” Bronoski said.