tampabay.com

Teamwork gets it done

By ELIZABETH MILLER
Published April 6, 2007


Although Darlene Bartoletta is a two-time cancer survivor, she doesn't consider herself tough.

At the age of 19, Bartoletta discovered she had Hodgkin's lymphoma. Her swollen glands had gone undetected and the cancer had spread to a stage four. She endured four months in the hospital and 12 different surgical procedures, followed by 11 grueling months of radiation therapy. She credits her mother's strength and the support she got from her close family and community that helped her through it.

Bartoletta's mother had been ill since Bartoletta was 7.

"Even with all she'd been through, my mother was never a down person, never negative, always optimistic," said Bartoletta, 46, of Tampa Palms. "I remember thinking, if she could battle what she had been through, then I can do this."

Cancer survivors draw that same strength from one another each year at the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

The Relay for Life is not only a community fundraising effort for cancer treatment, research and support, it's a time for anyone whose life has been touched by cancer to come together.

"Whether you're a survivor, a caregiver or a family member, you know you're there for a common goal. It's very powerful," said Bartoletta, the activities chair for the upcoming New Tampa Relay for Life, which will be April 27-28 at Freedom High School.

The relay is an overnight event in which teams take turns walking laps, keeping one team member on the track at all times.

The event starts at 6 p.m. Friday with a survivor lap, followed by a free dinner for cancer survivors. At 9, the walking stops for a luminaria ceremony in honor of all survivors and all who've lost their battle to cancer.

The first time Bartoletta heard about the Relay for Life was three years ago through an e-mail from a friend asking for a donation. Though the relay was only a week away, she decided to do better than just a donation and quickly started gathering her own team to participate.

At the time, she was recovering from breast cancer. Doctors speculated it had come from the radiation 20 years earlier. And Bartoletta also had lost her mother to cancer when she was 30. She wanted to show her support for the American Cancer Society. Through online donations, she collected almost $1,900 in less than a week.

Though feeling lousy from chemotherapy and the flu, she showed up at the event to walk her survivor lap. She has participated every year since.

"Walking around the track with your children, you know that you've made it, and it makes you think of those who haven't made it," said Bartoletta.

This area will have several Relay for Life events besides New Tampa's. They are planned in Lutz April 13-14 at the Train Depot Park; in Land O'Lakes April 27-28 at Pine View Middle School; and in Temple Terrace April 20-21 at Greco Middle School.

While the survivor lap and the luminaria ceremony tend to be emotional, the overall mood of the event is upbeat and hopeful, with games, music and prizes to keep team members motivated, explained Auralee Buckingham, the chair for this year's Lutz relay.

Buckingham is also a two-time cancer survivor. After 10 years of remission, she was diagnosed again with breast cancer last October through a routine mammogram and underwent surgery.

Last year's New Tampa relay had 47 teams and raised $137,000. This year, their goal is 55 teams and $150,000. They are still seeking corporate sponsorship.

The Lutz relay raised $35,000 through its first efforts last year.

"Anyone can participate. All they have to do is show up," says Buckingham. She emphasized that people can donate at the event itself, online, or by purchasing a luminaria in honor of a survivor or someone who has passed away due to cancer.

Though Bartoletta and Buckingham have been through a lot, they both stay positive and resilient.

"Somehow, you reach deep and realize, you can get through this," said Bartoletta.

To learn more about the Relay for Life in your community, or to make a donation, go to www.relayforlife.org.

 

. IF YOU GO

Relay for Life of Lutz

April 13 - 14

Train Depot

98 First Ave NW, Lutz

Contact: Auralee Buckingham, 949-7481

www.acsevents.org/relay/fl/lutz

Relay for Life of New Tampa

April 27 - 28

Freedom High School

17410 Commerce Park Blvd, Tampa

Contact: Mary Ann Yaney, 765-8113.