Fundraiser brings cancer fight home

Published 11:17 am Monday, August 8, 2011

Survivors release their balloons after the Survivor's Walk at the 2011 Mower County Relay for Life Saturday night. -- Eric Johnson/

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After her mother died of breast cancer in 2001, Linda Baier needed to find a way to combat it.

Her weapon has been the Mower County Relay for Life, and she isn’t alone, as honorary chair Patty Urlick noted.

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“This is a battle,” Urlick said. “And when you’re diagnosed with cancer, your whole family is diagnosed. Any event like this that can help people going through it is important.”

Cancer survivors gathered with family and friends Saturday at Community Park for the Relay for Life.

The event raised $82,150 to help find a cure and assist cancer patients, but Baier, chair of the Relay for Life, said it’s more than a fundraiser.

“It’s just a good time for all our survivors and their family members to come together, and it’s just a good support system,” she said. “There’s a lot of healing going on.”

The 20 teams of this year’s relay took turns walking all Saturday night.

“The idea is to keep them up all night,” Baier said. “Cancer doesn’t sleep.”

Like Baier, most participants became involved after they or a loved one was diagnosed.

For Baier, it was her mother.

“Her loss was tremendous in my life,” she said. “I needed to do more, and I didn’t know how to do that.”

After her mother died, Baier knew she couldn’t make a difference on her own, so she turned to Relay for Life.

The relay becomes a support system for many affected by cancer. Urlick is looking to be a voice of hope for those diagnosed with cancer.

Urlick’s struggle with cancer started long before she was diagnosed with breast cancer about two years ago. When she was 9, her mother died of cancer, an event that instilled a long-running fear that she would one day have cancer.

“It’s something you feel like will never happen to you, but in the back of my mind I had been afraid because there’s cancer in my family,” she said.

While the road wasn’t easy with surgery and treatments, Urlick said she was lucky.

“The end result is good: I’m cancer free today,” she said.

Through her experiences, Urlick has seen the necessity of support from family and friends when battling cancer. That’s inspired her to use her post as honorary chair to tell her story.

“It’s kind of like paying it forward,” she said. “A lot of people held me up when I needed it. Now it’s my turn to help others since I had such a good outcome.”

Urlick’s message to those diagnosed with cancer is simple: “Find something positive.”

After hearing the words “you have cancer,” Urlick said many people automatically fear the worst. But, Urlick said she’s telling people not to get discouraged.

Along with supporting others, Urlick described the Relay as a way to take action to fight cancer.

“Being able to come here and support other people and celebrate the lives of those who didn’t make it is really important,” she said. “And also, not giving in to the fear is really important.”

For many, the Relay for Life becomes a lifelong passion. Jerry Wilkinson formed Team Believe along with his family after his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Shortly before she died, she made Wilkinson promise he’d stay involved with Relay for Life.

“She made me promise I would keep doing this,” he said. “It was still a close item in her heart. … I see it going on indefinitely.”

The team was the first to top $10,000 in Mower County, which it did in its second year in 2009. But last year, after Mary’s death, the team took a step back from fundraising.

“It as pretty hard last year,” he said. “We weren’t ready to dive right in with both feet again. It was too soon.”

This year, the team renewed fundraising efforts, and raised $14,277, trailing only the IBI Data team that raised $16,000.

Wilkinson has only one rule for his team: Everyone buys a team T-shirt. Each says the team’s full name, “Family and Friends Believe in a Cure,” and on the back it lists how the person knew Mary (Husband, Brother, Friend, etc.).

The name was inspired by his wife’s motto: “Believe when it is beyond reason to believe.”

Wilkinson and his team believe efforts like the Relay for Life will one day lead to a cure.

Team Believe will have more competition for top fundraisers next year, as a member of the team left to form a new team. But, Wilkinson said he was proud, not disappointed. Competition isn’t important; it’s remembering loved ones and finding a cure.

“It’s all for Mary, and I hope there a cure found for all of it someday,” he said.