Archive for Thursday, July 22, 2004

Sometimes you can know too much, survivor finds

July 22, 2004

Basehor resident Tonnie Furjanic knows that the survivor rally and survivor lap, parts of the Kaw Valley Relay for Life, will be especially poignant moments in her life.

Furjanic will be able to use the relay, set for July 23 at Bonner Springs High School, to celebrate two family victories in the fight against cancer. Furjanic and her mother, Judy Newquist, both have won their battles against the disease.

"I think the relay is a beautiful way to celebrate the lives of those who have survived cancer and those who didn't," Furjanic said. "We also can celebrate the hope that someday this disease won't be around anymore."

Furjanic knows the importance of the relay and its two primary functions, raising money for a cure and awareness about the disease, for many reasons. Furjanic began working for the American Cancer Society 24 years ago and has been involved in every relay since the idea was brought to the area. During the course of her employment with the cancer society she also was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

"I tell you, mine was a unique situation," she said. "I had a lot of resources available to me. But that can be a good thing and a bad thing. Sometimes you can know too much, too much about the scary stuff."

Furjanic subsequently went through radioactive iodine treatments and surgery to fight the cancer, but she said the support of loved ones and information provided by the cancer society helped her win the battle.

"It is so important to draw on all of the resources around you," she said. "Family and friends around you can make such a difference. There is also an (cancer society) hotline and website that can help."

Furjanic has now been cancer-free for 12 years and continues to work for the cancer society on the financial end of things.

More recently, cancer again came to Furjanic's family when Newquist was diagnosed with cancer. Luckily, she too won her fight and finished her last treatment just in time to walk the survivor's lap with Furjanic during last year's relay.

Furjanic said she and her mother also used the same strategy of drawing on friends and resources for support during the battle.

"You just have to keep fighting and focus on the end goal," Furjanic said.

This year's relay, a 12-hour celebration of life and hope, will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at the Bonner Springs High School track. (See full schedule, page 5A)

The event will draw a multitude of survivors from several neighboring cities as well as teams of participants whose members will continuously walk laps around the track for the duration of the event.

The laps around the track are meant to serve as a symbolic reminder of the journey and fight a cancer patient goes through. The darkest hours of the relay as well as the sunset and the following moring are used to represent the stages a patient goes through before, during and after treatment.

Although each of the teams has spent the last couple of months raising funds for the event, Ann Schierts, a Shawnee resident who is organizing survivor participation in the event, said anyone is welcome to come and participate in the relay and share in its message.

"You can help just by showing up," Schierts, a cancer survivor herself, said.

Schierts said there will be various forms of entertainment throughout the evening.

The University of Kansas cheerleading aquad is scheduled to make an appearance, there will be music, games and concessions and an individual who will attempt to set the world record in karate for the highest number of concrete slabs broken by hand.

Anyone who shows up to the event willl also be able to purchase a luminary for $5 in honor of a survivor or in memory of someone who lost the battle against cancer.

Each of the luminaries purchased will be a part of a ceremony that is scheduled for 10 p.m., and all of the money raised at the relay will directly go to cancer reseach, Schierts said.

The goal for this year's relay is $75,000.

Last year, in its first year, the Kaw Valley Relay For Life raised $70,000.

Given that there is so much to do and that the event benefits such a good cause, Furjaic said everyone would benefit from attending the event.

People are welcome at the relay regardless of whether they are members of a team, she said, a comment that was echoed by relay co-chair Chris Sifuentes.

"There is a lot of energy, there is a lot of fun and I know there will be a few tears," she said. "I know it will be another great event; you will enjoy it if you come observe it."

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