Sue Kulak wants you to come to a party on Saturday. There will be live music, Irish dancers, food and shopping. There will even be fire performers lighting up the sky after dark.
Even better, the party is for a good cause. It’s the annual fundraiser to help battle a disease that has touched so many lives — including the lives of several people I know and love — cancer. For the past three years, Sue’s been at the Relay for Life of Greater Niagara, raising money to help those batting cancer, in honor of her friend’s daughter, an inspirational young woman now 16 and cancer-free.
Sue never dreamt this year she’d be leading the event as its “Honorary Cancer Survivor.” It’s been a tough year for Sue Kulak and her family.
In August, Kulak took herself to the emergency room at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital because her stomach felt like it was burning. While she was waiting to see a doctor, she felt an explosion in her stomach as her intestines burst. She was diagnosed with a rare form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Through the past year, she’ been dealing with multiple treatments of chemotherapy and even a stem cell transplant. Her sister died of renal failure a week before Sue’s emergency surgery, then her mother died in December but not before Sue could tell her that she was cancer free. “I was always very thankful I got to tell her I was cancer free before she passed,” she told me. Then her brother died of a cancerous brain tumor in April.
Handling these deaths was a challenge in itself. Further creating issues was the destruction of her immune system caused by the chemotherapy. Her fragile system has had to fight off several dangerous infections including one brought on by a hangnail and another from a spider bite. She can’t go outside without a mask. And yet, she rallies. During every treatment she told the doctors and nurses, “do what you will with me but make sure I can hit the ground running on June 1.” They did as she asked and today, she is in remission and cancer free. I stopped to visit her on Wednesday, as she, along with her sister, her daughter and a family friend were creating lanterns and garden art to sell for their team at the relay fundraiser. She was upbeat and funny. Wearing a bandanna to cover her loss of hair, she smiled as she told me, “My family prayed I would not loose my faith or my sense of humor. I didn’t.” On Saturday, the Relay for Life will be held at Reservoir State Park, starting at 12:30 p.m. with the craft show and vendor tables open at 1 p.m. Crafters are welcome until the relay starts, as long as they bring their own tables and pay a $15 donation to the fundraiser.
Those who have some free time might want to grab their friends or pack up the kids and take a ride up to the Witmer Road park.
Kulak and her committee have upped the ante on fun. The day opens with the Second Chance Band at 12:30 p.m. Buster Bison will meet and greet visitors at 3 p.m. Sophie Sky will perform at 3 as well and the Mike Hartman Band will perform from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., followed by a lip sync competition at 6:30 p.m.
There will be a frozen T-shirt contest at 4:30 p.m., where competitors must unwad and somehow dress themselves in a frozen T-shirt. Meanwhile, the McCarthy School of Irish Dance will perform at 7 p.m., Troy Chiappone will be singing American standards at 7:30 p.m. and the Odin and Elekra Fire Performers will take the stage at 10 p.m. There will be a food tent and basket auction all day. There will also be free haircuts for those who want to donate eight inches or more to children with hair loss, and young people from area church groups will be manning a booth giving away free craft supplies.
There’s going to be a lot going on at Reservoir Park on Saturday and that’s not even counting the beautiful, sentimental traditional moments the relays are known for.
Things have changed a bit from the old days, when the event went 24-hours and teams would take pledges and then, throughout the event, make sure to always have someone from their team walking on a track. There are still an opening ceremony, a survivor celebration and luncheon, a caregiver celebration at 6 p.m.; a presentation by Roswell Park Medical Center cancer researchers on progress being made in curing cancer at 6:30 p.m. There will also be the traditional candlelight luminary ceremony at 9:30 p.m. to honor those who have died from cancer and celebrate those who have long survived the disease. In all, it’s going to be the kind of day where people can do something good for the world while having a good time — rain or shine. And such a day promises the best sort of rewards.
Contact Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.