COLUMBUS -- After walking a lap around the track at Pawnee Park’s Memorial Stadium, Norma Hassebrook took a seat and waited for her granddaughter.
The two are more than 60 years apart in age, but share a bond that reaches beyond just bloodline. Both are cancer survivors.
They were among more than 200 people who have beaten cancer and attended the Platte County Relay For Life held Friday evening at the stadium. The survivors kicked off the cancer awareness event by being the first to take a lap around the track.
Hassebrook, 77, of Columbus, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991. Granddaughter Kortney Hassebrook, of Platte Center, was just 18 months when she diagnosed with leukemia. Each have been cancer free for several years and have taken the time to celebrate their victories at Relay with others who also have won their battles with the disease.
“I’m glad God has granted me this time to come here,” Norma Hassebrook said.
Relay raises funds for the American Cancer Society. Money goes toward supporting research, programs and education. The local event took in about $179,000. The goal was to raise $200,000. Organizers said money still is being tallied, so that goal still can be reached.
Funds were collected by teams that could spent the night at the track during the 12-hour event, which concluded Saturday morning. Team members were to walk the track throughout the night to represent the never-ending fight against cancer.
Two survivors, Scott Ward, 55, and Nate Miller, 36, both of Columbus, have been regular attendees of the event since each were diagnosed with cancer under unique circumstances.
Even though Ward had a family history of cancer, he didn’t get routine checkups. That changed the day he got a phone call from his father telling him he had colon cancer.
“I was 52, and they say 50 is when you should start (screenings). I didn’t start then, but should have,” Ward said.
After hearing from his dad, he did go in for a colorectal screening only to find that he, too, had colon cancer. Unlike his father, who passed away from the disease, Ward was able to successfully have surgery to remove the cancer.
He urges other men to get their regular checkups.
Miller found out he had a brain tumor after he was in a traffic accident. Doctors were checking him for head injuries and discovered a tumor the size of a golf ball in his brain. He had surgery to remove it a week later. Miller said he is lucky to have been in the accident; otherwise, the tumor might have been discovered only after it was too late.
Being at Relay gives both men hope.
“It feels really good to get the support from the community,” Miller said.
Along with the survivors, the lives of those who died from cancer were remembered. Numerous luminarias were lit at sundown in honor of those individuals.
Caregivers also were recognized.
“Caregivers come in all shapes and sizes, but we all have one thing in common. We all carry love in our hearts and hope in our hands,” said Karla Pelster, a member of the survivor committee.
Cancer survivor Cecile DeFreece, 88, said her friend Barb Nicolas was such a help during her battle with bladder cancer. There were constant phone calls and overnight stays ensuring DeFreece that she wouldn’t have to face her health issues alone.
Nicolas, 70, said being a caregiver is all about giving someone else hope.
“You have to be positive for them. It’s very easy to be positive for them and to just be there for them,” she said.