By SANDY WOJCIK
Daily American Correspondent
6:46 PM PDT, July 15, 2012
They pitched tents, walked for miles, sold everything from popcorn to glow lights, all to raise money in the fight against cancer.
Because of their efforts, this year's Windber Relay For Life team raised more than $59,500 towards their goal of $61,000 for the American Cancer Society this weekend, with money still coming in.
Linda Malisko, the chairwoman for the event said, "I just love the support of everyone who is here today. There was a little bit of rain but that did not put a damper on anyone and it was an awesome survivor's ceremony."
Malisko said the Relay For Life had more than 177 registered participants with 14 teams. There were 437 luminaria bags for the service, which included a tribute to Wendy Spencer, a long time supporter of the Relay, who lost her battle to cancer. The Rev. David McGee showed a slide show of names for which the luminaria signified.
The Relay For Life is a culmination of a number of events held prior to the actual weekend.
"We had a special event this year where restaurants in Windber raised money for the Relay," she explained. "Patti Rummel's Patti's Restaurant earned the top prize in our first Paint the Town Purple Event to select the Best Eatery's."
The theme for the teams at the Windber Recreation Park, was Carnival for a Cure, said Malisko. There were a number of carnival type games; face painting and even James Bradley dressed as a "beaded lady" to collect money from the supporters at the Park.
Ronda McGee, a member of the Relay team said the TATU, a group comprised of Windber students, broke the $4,000 mark for the very first time. She said the Relay is where "we bring the survivors together to hopefully uplift one another. We have a number of Relay teams here today, but we are gathering to care about one another, survivors, caregivers and people who are joining together in the fight against cancer."
McGee introduced one such survivor, Gaynelle Schmieder, of Ebensburg, the guest speaker, who was diagnosed with lung cancer, March 1, 2007, after having a part of her right lung removed.
Schmieder a registered nurse and assistant professor of Health Sciences at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College said to the Relay 133 participants, in addition to 50 cancer survivors.
"I have been at this cancer thing for a long, long time," she said. "I have devoted much of my career to caring for cancer patients at different stages in their disease."
To fight cancer she said, "You must say to this disease, 'You are not in charge of my life, I am in charge of my life.' If you ever heard the words, 'You have cancer' then you are a survivor."
Schmieder feels that those who support and care for those who have cancer, are also survivors, "because cancer not only affects a person with the disease but it also affects all of those around you."
Noting, "There are so many types of cancer, but they all have one thing in common, the potential to scare the living daylights out of you."
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in America today. "It is climbing and continues to climb. By the end of 2012, 160,000 Americans will die from lung cancer," said Schmieder. She talked about her own experience waking up in the ICU from having what was to be a biopsy of her lung only to hear the doctor tell her, "You have cancer."
"I never expected that. My entire life changed. I went through severe physical and emotional pain," she said.
Weeks after receiving her diagnosis, she started to question "why me?" This is after devoting almost her entire career to working with cancer patients.
"I actually questioned God as to why I had the cancer since my own father died from lung cancer in 1995," she said. "The answer came to me from my sister's pastor who came to pray with me. I was mad. I was angry. I kept saying why me."
During the pastor's visit, he told her "why not you? Are you better than any of the other people around here? Jesus suffered. Are you better than him? Why not you?"
Schmieder said the pastor then said, "Now it is what you do with it that is going to make the difference."
She said the first year of dealing with cancer was really tough but she did get through it with the support of her family and friends.
"Along with my faith in God that this was supposed to happen," she said.
This year Schmieder celebrated her 5-year "birthday" of being cancer free.
"Cancer completely changed my life. Every day I am so grateful. Each new person that I am fortunate to meet and each new experience I have, I appreciate it so much more than I ever did before," she said. "I have my priorities in order with God being number one and my family and friends are number two."
She jokingly added, "Housework is completely at the bottom of the list."
Schmieder ended saying that she is committed to doing "one nice thing in my life every day, something that comes from my heart for another person." She stressed, "You need to get out there and support other people to show them how lucky they are."
Following the survivors' walk led by Schmieder, there was a survivor/caregiver dinner with entertainment by "Con Fuoco," a brass quintet comprised of Joshua Brumbaugh, Aaron, Leah and Shannon Marko and Kyra Hill.