I’m taking a break from the weekly Wednesday interviews to talk about something that’s important to me. Everyone has their Cause — the charity or event they put above all others. I have four that I support actively — the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (because of my young cousin Frank John LaPinta and his father); Multiple Sclerosis (because of several friends fighting it); and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (because Jerry Lewis is a hero of mine, and Tom Bergeron, Nancy O’Dell, Alison Sweeney and Billy Gilman are favorite folks of mine carrying on that good work). But My Cause is cancer research, and specifically the American Cancer Society.
A few weeks back I talked about losing yet another friend to cancer and mentioned my annual ACS Relay For Life event.
That event was this past weekend, June 4-5, at Mahopac High School in Mahopac, NY. Mahopac is my hometown. I was born in Astoria, but moved full-time to Mahopac the summer before second grade. For better or worse, that town (and the smaller community of Lake Secor where we lived) shaped who I am now. After my mother lost her fight with lung cancer in February 0f 2005 and I was diagnosed with my own colon cancer in September of that year, I started taking a more active role in the Relay For Life team my cousins Crissy and Jimmy Hajkowski (both cancer survivors themselves) had been running for a couple of years. Since 2006, our team has grown (exponentially, it seems). Even with all of my crazy work travel I have only missed one Relay, and it bothered me so much I vowed never to miss another.
This year, for the first time in a while, the weather held out. We had warm but not hot temperatures during the day under a slightly cloudy sky — perfect for lapping the MHS track. I did the Opening Survivor Lap, and then the Caregiver Recognition Lap, the Survivor Recognition Lap, and the Remembrance Lap in the later afternoon. All of those were emotional for me and for those around me. In between, I manned our booth selling copies of my book and donating the proceeds to Relay.
As sun set, the temperatures cooled a bit. A slight wind kicked up for a little while. The bleachers were packed for the Luminaria ceremony. The track lined with candle-lit bags in memory of those lost and in honor of those surviving and still fighting. The wind caused a few bags to ignite and it was sad to see them put out by the firemen on hand (but we all understood the safety factor). After the Luminaria ceremony, laps resumed — but much quieter, more reflective laps than earlier in the day.
Over night, the temps dropped more and a few hardy souls (myself included) kept the laps going. At 4am, I was exhausted and so was my 13 year old nephew Vincent. We headed home. But between midnight and 4am I put a lot of time on that track, thinking of everyone I know who has suffered through this horrible disease.
I walked in memory of my mother and father, Rosemary and Raymond Cardno; of my maternal grandparents Vicky and Anthony Bukowski; of my cousins Matthew Cardno, Ginger Cardno, Eileen Callaghan and Lester Bishop Jr; of my aunts Terry Cornelia and Connie Callaghan; of Uncles Charlie Cornue, Frank LaPinta Sr and Ed Frey Sr.; of my dear friends M. Denise Barnoski, Karen Irene Jenkins, and Kristina Meyer; of my old neighbors Rita Paterno, Frank Cunningham, Alma and Rick Yarrobino and Meg Pennebaker; of George and Marion Hajkowski, Lou Miliambro, Charlie Commito, Patty Odegar, Bob Hagan, Seanie Nieves, Charlie Bondatti, Justin Salandra, Barbara Dorman, Bernie Castronovo, Henning Suerig, Prof. Randy Pausch, Jean Marie “Jorie” Scott, Juanita “Benny” Dyer, Gerald Edgerton, Frances Ng, Franklin and Janice Heiny, Debbie and Carol Stephens, Grace Uppstrom, Albert Ragozzine, Pamela Stuart Blakely, Heide Koch, Donald Cole, Wander Witter, Kathy Peterson, Patricia Sisco, Richard “Pop” Schlerf, John Schartner, M. Mulligan, Henry Cermak, Denis Fedorov, and Joe Connors. So many lost just to my family and the families of my friends.
I walked in honor of, and spiritually alongside, my Uncles Charlie Bukowski and Lester Bishop Sr.; Aunt Gloria Schneider; cousins Chris Tanner and Crissy and Jimmy Hajkowski; friends Ellen Przymylski, Christine Doyle, Denny Doyle, Liam Ollive, Christina Hagan, Jennifer Griffin, Janice Arnold, Teri Breen, Sheldon Pincus, Robin Deal, Kathleen Rankine, Jim McCleave, Jay Lake, Dean Sizemore, Chris Saunders, Lee Bloom, Carol Essig, Carol Little, Jeff Wentworth, Barbara Kocourek, Debbie Williamson, B. Burkhardt, Ursula Vucci and my mentor for so many years Nancy Bruno. And of course the hundred or so other survivors that were at Relay with me, most of whom I don’t know by name.
A few days before Relay, I came across a song on Youtube. Matt Johnson is a young performer out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He was a contestant on Disney’s Next Big Thing last year, and lately he’s taken to performing with just a guitar in front of a camera to share music with his fans. One of his new songs, “Not A Moment,” struck me as a fitting homage to those we’ve lost, and a reminder that Cancer (or Diabetes, or MS, or Cystic Fibrosis, or heart disease, or any of the Muscular Dystrophies) can hit anyone at any time. So we should take every chance to remember those we love, and to tell them we love them, until cures are found. Hopefully, I can get Matt’s video to embed. If not, please follow the link and listen to this wonderful song … and take a moment to remember the loved ones who are no longer here in person but are always with us in spirit and memory.