Relay for Life honors cancer survivors and caregivers at kickoff event



Last modified: Friday, February 21, 2014

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of guest articles that explains aspects of this year’s Relay for Life of Hampshire County, annual American Cancer Society fundraiser.



They call them Mr. and Mrs. Coffee.

That’s what happens when you are on the giving end of the coffee booth at the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Hampshire County for 14 years. You get known for your generosity.

This year, the Relay leadership is recognizing Elsie and John Waskiewicz of Hadley for their past contributions — donating the coffee and tea and manning the station for the full 24-hour event. But the Waskiewiczes were also both honored as cancer survivors who have taken turns caring for one another.

The Waskiewiczes were honored as this year’s Honorary Survivors and Caregivers on Feb. 1 at the kickoff event for the 2014 event, which was organized by the committee that leads the local Relay and was emceed by its tri-chairs Wendy Payson, Tom McCusker and Kurt LaPlante.

This year’s Relay will be held June 13-14 at Look Memorial Park in Florence. The theme is “Over the TOP” and the financial goal is $280,000.

Elsie Waskiewicz, 72, said she and her husband have lost one of their five children, daughter Nancy, a brother, and each of their mothers to cancer. A second daughter, Karen, is a colon cancer survivor.

“We have a lot of cancer in our lives, and we’re lucky to be standing here,” Waskiewicz told a crowd of roughly 100 volunteers and team members who had gathered for the pancake breakfast and official kickoff of this year’s fundraising and team organizing.

In addition to the Waskiewiczes, all cancer survivors were recognized at the kickoff event. They were asked to stand and each received a purple carnation. Committee member Patty Green told them, “I want to know your name. I want to know your story.” Likewise, caregivers were also honored by committee members Madelyn Breen and Lori McCusker. And the pair announced that the organizing committee is creating a video to honor caregivers and is looking for caregivers who would like their messages of love and hope to be represented within. Those who would like to take part can email McCusker at hamprelay@gmail.com.

Committee members had sad news as well. It was announced that the 2013 Volunteer of the Year, Mike Maginnis, who was also the first volunteer to be honored this way, succumbed to his cancer this winter.

“Mike was on the Coca-Cola team and did many things to help our Relay,” Payson said. “He also was the driver of the purple camouflage Jeep you see around town. He was an inspiration and a fighter. Mike knew it was his time, and he was ready to go. He will be missed.”

Cooley Dickinson Hospital presented Relay organizers with a $10,000 check for their continued sponsorship. Trichair McCusker said the hospital has been sponsoring the event for each of the 17 years it has been offered, and he said the community should be proud that this year it continues to sponsor the event in its new affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital.

The Waskiewiczes said they got involved in Relay in 1998, a year after their daughter died of Hodgkin’s disease. For 14 years, they donated the coffee, with assistance from Serio’s Market of Northampton as a sponsor, and worked at the booth overnight, taking short breaks in the middle of the night to sleep in the car.

Last spring, after being diagnosed with endometrial cancer after a hysterectomy, Elsie Waskiewicz underwent chemotherapy from January to April, and then tried to man the booth in June.

“It was really too much,” said Waskiewicz, who works part time as outreach coordinator for the Hadley Council on Aging.

John Waskiewicz, 75, is a bus driver in Northampton, and he was diagnosed with basal cell cancer in 1990. He had surgery on his nose, including reconstruction surgery that involved his forehead and right ear. Both of the Waskiewiczes are in remission.

They described what it was like to care for one another during each of their illnesses. Elsie Waskiewicz said a family member was required to attend her first chemotherapy session, but John was frightened, so her sister came in his place; he came afterwards each time.

And, she said he even cooked her a meal — “which he doesn’t ever, ever, ever, EVER do.” “I thought about just getting take-out,” he said, smiling.

Janice Beetle of Easthampton manages the publicity for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Hampshire County. She is assisted by Lisa Marie Leary, a junior at Westfield State University.


 


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