June 23, 2017 by John Fernandez and Tanya Racoobian
Memory ‘Laps’ at Relay for Life 2017
Sandy Paster had been involved with the American Cancer Society’s annual fundraiser, Relay for Life, for more than six years, when she received the devastating news she had stage III ovarian cancer.
“It was a slap in the face,” she remembered, recalling the day she sat in her gynecologist’s office in 2005, stunned at the news. “I called one of my Relay teammates – a breast cancer survivor – and she immediately came to sit with me through the next few hours of additional tests to confirm my diagnosis.”
That immediate assistance and continuous support from her Relay for Life “family” for the weeks and months ahead, further solidified Ms. Paster’s commitment to the American Cancer Society (ACS) – an organization for which she had been volunteering for more than 25 years, following the deaths of her father and uncle.
Support and Hope
“My involvement with the American Cancer Society gave me a greater feeling of support and hope during my treatment,” she said.
She even garnered enough strength to attend that year’s Relay for Life at Miami Dade College one week after her cancer surgery. There, her Relay teammates rallied around her “not impossible” fight against cancer.
Ms. Paster’s story echoes the stories of many cancer survivors who participate each year in thousands of Relay for Life events across the nation and world. And the signature luminarias, or lighted lanterns honoring survivors and memorializing those who have succumb to cancer, represent the disease’s impact on the one-out-of-two men and one-out-of-three women who will be touched by cancer in their lifetime, according to the ACS.
Relay for Life of East Kendall
For the 11th consecutive year, the Baptist Hospital campus will host the Relay for Life of East Kendall on Saturday, March 11, 12 noon-9 p.m.
The East Kendall event, sponsored in part by Miami Cancer Institute, brings together survivors like Ms. Paster, family members and friends of those who battled or are battling cancer and community organizations committed to finding ways to stop cancer from tearing families apart.
“We haven’t been able to stop cancer completely,” said Michael Zinner, M.D., founding chief executive officer and executive medical director of Miami Cancer Institute and the honorary chair of the 2017 Relay for Life of East Kendall. “But through the research, education and patient services that Relay funds support, and with the treatment technology, clinical trials and patient-centered care we offer at Miami Cancer Institute, we are, together, giving hope to cancer patients and their families now more than ever.”
The fundraising goal for the East Kendall Relay is $350,000. Last year, 68 participating teams raised $306,689. In comparison, the first Relay for Life of East Kendall, which Ms. Paster chaired in 1999, raised $14,000 with only 11 teams participating.
Over the past 18 years of involvement with Relay for Life, Ms. Paster has witnessed tremendous growth of the event and fascinating advances in cancer care and treatment. Despite recurrences of her own cancer in 2007 and 2012, she’s grateful to her doctors, like gynecologic oncologist Ricardo Estape, M.D., who performed her first cancer surgery and initiated an aggressive treatment plan that included traditional chemotherapy and intraoperative chemotherapy. She’s also thankful for her Relay for Life team, Mission Not Impossible, for keeping her hopeful.
“My team has seen a lot of people lose their fight over the years,” the now 12-year cancer survivor said. “But, each year I realize more of those luminarias lit at Relay for Life are ‘in honor of’ rather than ‘in memory of.’ It’s an emotional event, but in a positive way.”
That positivity and desire to continue helping other cancer patients as she was helped, led Ms. Paster to begin volunteering weekly at Miami Cancer Institute as soon as it opened in January. She even attended the Institute’s grand opening and met up with Dr. Estape.
“Back when Relay first started, participants camped out for 18 hours and someone had to be walking at all times,” she said. “That was to show that cancer doesn’t sleep.” And luckily, Ms. Paster’s desire to promote hope for cancer patients doesn’t tire either.
“I love Relay,” she said. “It will always be a part of me.”