Relay for Life funds help patients through all facets of cancer

By Katie Demeria

STRASBURG — As a pastor, Bill Nabers of St. Paul Lutheran Church was familiar with providing support to those with recent cancer diagnoses.

But after he faced a diagnosis himself, his perspective toward cancer changed.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” Nabers said. “Even having been around it, having worked with it. It’s really different once you’ve had that pronouncement made over you.”

Participating in Relay for Life, he said, is different now. As is standing up as a cancer survivor after interacting with others battling more severe types.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in the fall of 2009, Nabers is quick to point out how fortunate he was — his cancer was slow growing and treatable.

While seeking treatment at the University of Colorado, Nabers had the opportunity to sit and talk with some children who were battling various degrees of more severe cancers.

“The courage and the capacity to fight really was inspiring. Whenever I felt bad after radiation, it was hard to complain after seeing these kids who were so upbeat,” he said.

Adam Ford, Relay for Life specialist with the American Cancer Society, said he is hoping to reconnect participants with some of the things Nabers was able to realize after having his experience.

“We want to keep the mission at the heart of Relay,” Ford said. “I think people realize it goes to a good cause, but we want them to be aware of where those funds go.”

Funding is not just a vital aspect of cancer research. It is crucial in providing services to those in the area currently battling cancer, to help them keep control over their lives, Ford said.

“Of the $130,000 Shenandoah County raised last year, only 23 percent was reinvested in administrative fees,” Ford said.

The remaining 77 percent was split three ways: a third went to research, a quarter went to advocacy and early detection campaigns, and the remainder went into patient support services.

Patient support services, Ford said, are meant to help those battling cancer in the area cope.

“We have the Look Good, Feel Better program, and we have three or four volunteers in the community,” Ford said. “They’re trained cosmetologists who take in female cancer patients for sessions, offering free wigs, free makeup kits, and giving them hints on how to continue to look their best throughout treatment, because a positive attitude really is key.”

Funds raised through Relay for Life also help maintain the hotline the society offers, which provides detailed information to both patients and caregivers about cancer.

Ford said research money is not necessarily designated toward one strain of cancer. Instead, the society tries to help various areas of research because, ultimately, they all help each other.

“Some colon cancer research has gone on to help treat breast cancer,” Ford said. “ACS doesn’t limit itself to funding one specific kind of cancer.”

The American Cancer Society also offers a Reach to Recovery program, which offers one-on-one counseling between someone who has survived cancer and another recently diagnosed.

“It really is a powerful community, with very close-knit ties,” Ford said. “We’ll have yearly meetings where survivors won’t have seen each other for a year, but as soon as they’re reunited it’s like they’re best friends — the bonds are that strong.”

Nabers said those sorts of connections are important to those battling cancer, and can make a real difference. As a pastor, he offered support to those dealing with recent diagnoses, but after his own diagnosis, he is better able to understand.

“I think it helps on two levels,” he said. “I have an appreciation for what they’re going through, but I think it also opens the door because they know that I’ve experienced what they’re going through. I know what it’s like to have those words said and to face those things.”

Relay for Life will be hosted at various different locations in the area throughout the next several months.

Shenandoah County’s is scheduled for May 23 at the Shenandoah County Fair Grounds, Warren County’s will be on May 31 at Skyline High School, and Frederick County’s is scheduled for June 20 at James Wood High School.

For more information on Relay, go to www.relayforlife.org. For more information on cancer research and support, call 1-800-ACS-2345.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com