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Local American Cancer Society ‘Relay for Life’

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

SUSAN SEIDMAN: I had just begun my chemo treatments when my dad had a heart attack and was diagnosed with liver cancer. Three weeks later, he was gone. As I walk tonight in the American Cancer Society’s “Relay For Life” — the first ever at Saddle Brook High School — I’ll be thinking of him, and others.

Susan Seidman at the Saddle Brook HS “Relay for Life” site this afternoon (CLIFFVIEW PILOT photos)

More than 300 of us signed up for the nearly 12-hour overnight relay around the quarter-mile track. But the crowd got much larger, as friends and family arrived.

We have 30 teams of 10 or so members each, and only one rule: At least one team member has to be on the track through the entire relay. After all, cancer never sleeps.

I learned that awful truth 18 years ago, after my first mammogram. Believe it or not, I wasn’t worried about losing a part of my body and having reconstructive breast surgery. I was more concerned about my lymph nodes. Getting the “all clear” was the happiest day of my life.

My dad was retired, and he kept me company during my chemo treatments. I’m the independent type, as I’m sure many of you are. But the truth is: We need as much support as we can get. So I wasn’t ashamed to have my dad to lean on. I cherished it, in fact.

We were only three weeks in when disaster struck. Now I was the one beside him, as he lay in a hospital bed, making the most of his time — joking with the nurses, smiling to lift others’ spirits — even though he knew he was about to die.

I know my dad would be proud to see me walking that track. I also know that when we do the silent lap tonight for all who have passed or are suffering, I’ll have tears in my eyes, thinking of him.

But I will also be determined that our efforts aren’t in vain, that a day will come when my 5-year-old niece and others won’t have to deal with this deadly disease.

I learned that from dad. The one thing you can (and must) do when someone you love has cancer is stay positive. It helps not only their spirits but your own. And, believe me, it physically helps fight the battle, as the very medicine that attacks the monster takes so many of our good cells with it.

I’m living proof.

Were it not for the commitment of the American Cancer Society, as well as the donations from strangers and support of those I love, I wouldn’t have celebrated my 40th birthday 18 years ago.

So I walk tonight/tomorrow in honor of Edward C. Trombitas (my role model and the best dad anyone could have), as well as his brother, Ken who died of pancreatic cancer, and for Regina, a good friend’s mother, who was taken by the disease a week after her 67th birthday, in 2002.

Just as importantly, I walk for those who have beaten cancer or are still in there fighting. The disease doesn’t discriminate, it shows up unannounced, and it never, ever takes time off.

This is why I don’t take anything, or anyone, for granted, why I live in the moment. It’s simple but it’s true: Make the best of your days, for you never know how many you’ll have. Laugh. Love. Be happy.

The relays began in 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon in Tacoma, Washington, ran and walked around a track for 24 hours to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Since then it has grown into the world’s largest movement to end the disease. More than 3.5 million people in 5,000 communities in the U.S., along with communities in 20 other countries, participate in this global phenomenon. The money raised helps save lives.

Although all of the events are distinctive in their own way, there are certain traditions we all follow:

We’re beginning with the Survivors Lap in a few minutes (just before 7 p.m.), when I and others who have beaten the disease will all circle the track together, sharing our victories — and, we pray, giving others hope that they can do the same. We will also recognize and celebrate caregivers: Without them, none of us would have made it.

After dark, we honor those lost and the loved ones they left behind during the “Luminaria Ceremony.” Candles are lit inside bags filled with sand, each one bearing the name of a person touched by cancer. It is an incredibly powerful moment as we walk in silence through the light, some still grieving, others healing — several of us doing both.

It all leads to the “Fight Back Ceremony,” in which we each make a personal commitment to saving lives in whatever way we can. It could mean getting a screening test, quitting smoking, or talking to elected officials about awareness programs.

This is Saddle Brook’s first “Relay for Life” — so, naturally, everyone’s excited. Some of us got here late this morning or early afternoon to begin setting up our tents.

Before we set off, I got to pose in front of a 1955 pink Cadillac replica of the one Elvis Presley bought his mom after getting his first record deal. Saddle Brook Police Chief Robert Kugler took the photo (see below).

Stewart Krentzman of River Vale, bought the car after his wife had a breast cancer scare. He brings it to cancer fundraisers all over.

The theme of our team is birthdays — which means one big celebration. My daughter made chocolate pops to raise money. She’s 28, has done the relay each year and, like me, believes we will live to see a cure. I couldn’t be prouder of her.

We’re all hoping the rain holds off, at least this one night, as we move everything into place. We set off at 7 and finish at 6:30 in the morning.

If you can’t participate or come watch,  you can still help the cause by donating. We’ve already topped $5,000 — the most for any of the participating teams. But we’re aiming much higher.

For more information on how you can help, click here: Kay’s Team

Now, if you’ll excuse me: Got to go put on my sneakers.

Susan Seidman, 58, of Oak Ridge, is a customer care manager for Raymour & Flanigan Furniture in Fairfield — one of the “Relay for Life” sponsors.

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