By ALISSA SCOTT
Recorder News Staff
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- After Colleen Rumrill was diagnosed with cervical cancer in her 20s, she was told she would never be able to have children. Not only did she give birth to her son, she has also reached 50 years old as a survivor and spent much of her life counseling others with cancer.
"I helped a friend who was going through cancer," Rumrill said, "and drove him back and forth to treatment." Her husband, Artie, said he still marvels at her willingness to help others.
Artie, supporting his wife, gathered along with about 400 others Friday night at Amsterdam High School for Relay for Life, a movement sponsored by the American Cancer Society that honors survivors and remembers those lost.
The event was originally scheduled for late June, but because of torrential downpour, it was postponed.
Francesca Boyer, 18, attended to support her mom's best friend Karen Golden and was disappointed with the lower turnout. Temperatures reached 93 degrees in the city and Boyer said she thinks it may have dismayed some.
"It blows my mind," Boyer said. "We're doing this to support people who are going through things way worse than walking in the sun."
Still, 23 teams and 330 participants registered for Friday's event and raised more than $47,000. Proceeds benefit programs like Look Better Get Better, held at St. Mary's Hospital to help women with the physical effects of cancer, and the 24/7/365 hotline available for anyone affected by cancer.
Organizer Genevieve Thaler, a community representative of the American Cancer Society, welcomed participants and recognized teams who raised large amounts of money, the top team raising more than $12,000. Then, she introduced this year's survivor speaker, Pat Valiente, who was a choir instructor at AHS.
"They said, 'You have lung cancer,'" Valiente said, telling the crowd of her story. "Lung cancer? Are you kidding? I run five miles a day. I've never smoked a cigarette in my life. How can I have lung cancer? I did. They took out half of my lung. You never forget the day they diagnose you."
During her treatment, Valiente said, she learned that one of the nurses assigned to her turned out to be one of her former students from AHS. She had requested to transfer hospitals once she found out Valiente had cancer so she could help take care of her.
Valiente ended her speech by asking all listening to shout out the names of their "angels or survivors" they were supporting that day, which was followed by a long round of applause.
After survivors completed the first lap around the track, walking to "Eye of the Tiger," fists thrust into the air, everyone else was asked to join in. People continued to walk throughout the event, but stopped to play some games in between.
A water balloon toss was organized and groups spent nearly an hour competing in a frozen t-shirt contest. T-shirts were knotted several times to create a ball the night before, and then frozen in water. Using teamwork, the groups were instructed to thaw the t-shirt ice blocks to the point where a group member could wear the shirt.
Groups used various strategies like the warmth of their under arms, stomachs and feet, water bottles, lighters and some even tried to stomp them loose.
Aubrey Ericson, 10, and her team won they contest as they raced to the registration table to claim their prizes.
Thaler said with a combination of the walk to raise funds and the games to raise spirits, the relay helps boost awareness and community support.
"This event is necessary because we have yet to finish the fight," Thaler said. "Events like this really bring the community together to really show people that you can rely on your neighbor, that there is a support system out there for you."
Rumrill said, without her friends and family, she could have never made it through. To those still undergoing treatment, she said she has one piece of advice.
"The biggest thing for them to remember, which I had a rough time when I was doing it, is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," Rumrill said. " Everything always seems so bleak and even at your darkest, you have to try and focus on that one little glimmer of hope. You have to. As soon as you start getting negative, everything seems to go downhill from there.
"You have to try and stay positive even when you're throwing up or you're losing your hair or you're just plain miserable or, in my mother's case, if I'm shoving you away and I don't want to deal with you. It's because I need to deal with what's going on first."
At least five tents were set up in the middle of the track for participants who intended to stay until the event ended at 6 a.m.
"Oh yeah, we're staying in the tent tonight," Lorraine Clark, Ericson's aunt, said. "It's a really bad disease. You never know. Anyone in your family could have it. We're just happy to be here to support a good cause."