Relay for Life is a celebration of those who have survived cancer. It is also a solemn time of remembering those who lost the battle.
Over all, the reason for the Relay for Life is to cancer fund research so there are more survivors than casualties.
On Saturday, the St. Joseph County Relay for Life was held at Centerville High School track and football field.
Fourteen teams participated, said Caralee Waswick, of the American Cancer Society. They raised about $39,000, including outstanding sponsorships. The goal was $40,000 so she felt good about the turnout.
It was the first local Relay for Life in two years and numbers were down a bit compared to 2019, she said.
Michelle Ackerman, of Schoolcraft, was the survivor speaker before the celebration lap.
The past two years have been one battle after the next for Ackerman and her family.
In November 2019, Ackerman's brother was diagnosed with lung cancer that was already advanced.
“We knew he wouldn’t survive it,” she said.
Her elderly mother was showing more and more signs of dementia so a few months after his diagnosis, the family put her in a care facility.
“She did not want to be there,” Ackerman said. She died five hours after being admitted to the nursing home.
Ackerman is a nurse and stepped up to take care of her brother. When normal methods weren’t working, he wanted to try some alternative methods.
“He was just such a trooper. He smiled every step of the way,” Ackerman said. “Little did he know that he was showing me how to fight cancer.”
It was something she already knew.
During the talk, Ackerman was holding Izzy’s hand — a little girl with curly red hair, hiding her face most of the time.
“Even though I already knew how to fight cancer because I am Izzy’s nurse,” Ackerman said. “I am an American pediatric oncology nurse. I take care of children with cancer every day. I took care of Izzy.”
On a more personal level, her brother taught Ackerman that really good memories can be made even in difficult times.
And it was difficult. Ackerman worked three 12-hour shifts and fit in taking care of her brother in Indiana until he passed away August 2020. Soon after she had a forced job change, but was soon working in a pediatric hematology oncology office, taking care of more cancer patients.
Six weeks later, Ackerman went in for a routine mammogram. They found breast cancer.
“God was showing me how to take care of kids like Izzy,” Ackerman said. “God was saying, ‘You’re going to be the best cancer nurse there is because you’re going to get a port. You’re going to go through chemotherapy. You’re going to lose your hair. You’re going to throw up. Then you’re going through radiation after all that.’”
It all showed her how to really be there for others, Ackerman said.
She encouraged the group, “Reach out to those people with cancer. Take them a meal. Don’t ask ‘What can I do?’ Just say ‘I’m coming on Thursday to do your laundry.’ Because we’ll all say, ‘You don’t need to do that!’ But we do. We need people to pray for us. We need people to support us,” Ackerman said. “You can’t imagine it until you step into someone else’s shoes. And hopefully we will have a cure for this awful, awful disease.”
Following the Survivor’s Lap, Ackerman’s husband, Art and youngest daughter, Maddy, talked more about the journey.
Art said they called a family meeting with their grown children and Maddy, gathering at home to explain the situation about her brother, saying everything was going to be all right. It wasn’t.
They gathered to explain the situation about their grandmother, saying but it’s going to be all right. It wasn’t.
So when they called the third meeting to talk about their mom, the family already knew that it might not be all right.
It has been this time. And they are very thankful.
Tears filled both their eyes and rolled down Maddy's cheeks. She was only 12 when it all started.
Both agreed with how very important their support system was calling them “14 of Michelle's best friends” who were there through the cancer journey.
“We had a lot of people in our corner,” Art said.
Cancer touches the lives of nearly everyone.
In the United States in 2019, 1.8 million new cancer cases were reported and 599,589 people died of cancer, according to the Center for Disease Control. For every 100,000 people, 439 new cancer cases were reported and 146 people died of cancer.
This article originally appeared on Sturgis Journal: Relay for Life: Support for cancer research and cancer victims