News: MCB Hawaii community joins Windward community in Relay for Life
Story by Kristen Wong
KAILUA, Hawaii — Cancer survivors, caregivers and members of the community supporting the fight against cancer were serenaded by Celtic Pipes of Hawaii’s bagpipes as they participated in the 2012 Relay for Life of Windward Oahu at Kailua High School, July 7.
During the opening ceremony, cancer survivors from various walks
of life, wearing silky white sashes, and caregivers, wearing purple sashes, made their way around the track for the traditional Survivors and Caregivers Lap, which kicks off the walking portion of the event.
Among the survivors were Marine spouse Michele Kuepfer and Staff Sgt. Robert Torres, a Marine with Wounded Warrior Battalion West — Detachment Hawaii, both from Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Kuepfer came with more than a dozen fellow spouses and service members from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 and friends to raise money for the American Cancer Society’s annual event,
happening in various cities around the world.
“It’s really an awesome experience,” Kuepfer said of the Caregivers and Survivor’s Lap. “You feel the support and love of everyone around you. It’s very comforting to know that you’re not alone.”
At the age of 33, Kuepfer was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.
“I was shocked because I was so young,” Kuepfer said. “I had a history of cancer in my family, but no one has skin cancer.”
Fortunately, Kuepfer said her cancer was caught early and removed with surgery. Now, Kuepfer is more cautious when stepping out into the sun, making sure she has adequate sun protection for herself and her family.
“Relay for Life is a great opportunity for the squadron to give back to the community that shows us a lot of good things,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Davis, commanding officer, HMH-463, who joined Team Pegasus for Relay for Life.
“For (the Marines and sailors) to take the time to give back, it’s consistent with our core values of honor, courage and commitment.”
For Davis, Relay for Life hits close to home since his aunt recently passed away from cancer, and his wife has family members who have also had cancer.
“We too have been touched by cancer and it’s a good opportunity for us to give back (as well),” Davis said. “As a commanding officer, I work with these Marines every day. I’m just humbled to be in their presence. They’re giving so much of themselves.”
It’s especially significant to Davis since the Marines chose to attend a charity event like Relay for Life despite their limited time left to spend with family before their next deployment for the Rim of the Pacific exercise.
Team Pegasus exceeded their goal of $2,500 by more than $200, and recruited 19 members from the squadron, including Davis and his wife. Davis’ wife said a Pegasus spouse pitched the idea to the squadron and it was received with enthusiasm. She said it was an opportunity for the squadron to come together for an event, and promote camaraderie while helping a good cause.
“We loved the idea and we wanted to see it come to fruition,” Davis’ wife said.
Davis also knows cancer survivor Becky Cheman of Kailua, through their daughters’ involvement in Girl Scouts, and Cheman joined Team Pegasus. A year and a half ago, Cheman, a former Army captain, beat hodgkins lymphoma with chemotherapy.
While others felt initially shock when they found out they had cancer, Cheman was actually relieved. For 10 months, Cheman had visited eight doctors for mysterious ailments before finally learning what it was. Now, as a survivor, Cheman said it almost felt as if “someone else” had cancer instead of her.
“I don’t even feel like I’m here (at Relay for Life) for myself,” Cheman said. "(To see elderly and children affected by cancer), it just breaks your heart. It’s not only that person (who’s affected), it’s their family.”
Relay for Life teams enjoyed a silent auction, activities, entertainment, dance lessons and games. In the evening, participants lined the track with decorative white paper bags, each honoring a loved one affected by cancer.
During the traditional “Luminaria Ceremony,” the bags are illuminated by artificial candles. Special luminaries are also placed on the bleachers near the track, spelling the word “hope,” then being rearranged to spell “cure.”
Participants stayed at Kailua High School, walking and enjoying festivities until 6 a.m. the next morning.
Team Pegasus member Katie Rudd attended her second Relay for Life this year due to her interest in charity work. She also has a personal connection to Relay for Life because her grandmother died of leukemia.
“It’s a great cause,” Rudd said. “Working toward a cure is a step in the right direction.”
For Torres, his first Relay for Life event meant a lot, because he was able to see the other people who, like him have fought cancer.
Torres said he was definitely shocked when he found out he was diagnosed with stage two testicular cancer seven months ago.
“I was almost speechless,” Torres said. “But I just got that fighting spirit. I couldn’t change what I had so I (thought) ‘let’s deal with it and hope for the best.’”
Torres’ cancer is currently in remission. He said he couldn’t have done it without the support of his wife, children and the Wounded Warriors.
“It’s definitely been challenging but I’m always up for a challenge,” Torres said.
For more information about Relay for Life, visit http://www.relayforlife.org.