Survivors most important aspect of Relay for Life

Photo by Becky Polaski – Cancer survivors joined together for a special survivors’ lap on Saturday afternoon during the Relay for Life of Elk County.
Becky Polaski
Staff Writer

KERSEY – “The most important aspect of Relay for Life is our cancer survivors. Their presence here today gives us hope that our work is not in vain but also reminds us that our work is not done.” These words by Serena Schatz, survivorship chairperson for the Relay for Life of Elk County, kicked off the survivor ceremony held at 1 p.m. at Fox Township Community Park on Saturday during this year’s event.
According to Schatz, “a cancer survivor is anyone who defines himself or herself as a survivor from the time of diagnosis throughout the balance of his or her life.”
The featured speaker for this year’s survivor ceremony was Deb Caggiano, who is currently battling stage 3 malignant melanoma.
“For those that don’t know, melanoma is skin cancer,” Caggiano explained to the crowd as she took to the park’s stage.
Her battle with the disease began in 2016.
That spring, she noticed a mole on her leg that appeared to be changing. In December of that year she had it removed.
“In my heart, I knew it was cancer,” Caggiano said. “But I thought, ‘It’s just skin cancer. I’ll have it cut out, I’ll have a scar and I’ll move on with my life.’ That couldn’t have been further from the truth.”
She explained that the melanoma was so thick that it posed a danger of reaching her bloodstream and spreading to other parts of her body. Since her initial diagnosis she's had numerous scans, undergone a year-long treatment program and also had two surgeries, the most recent of which was only one month ago. Still, the melanoma ended up spreading to her lymph nodes.
“I’ve had all those lymph nodes removed and found out I’m now stage 3,” Caggiano said.
Citing some statistics, Caggiano noted that this year alone over 91,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma. However, skin cancer is 90 percent preventable, she added.
“With the use of sunscreen, protective clothing and staying out of tanning beds, you can prevent melanoma. And don’t forget to protect your children and your grandchildren. You increase your risk of developing skin cancer by 50 percent from one bad sunburn as a child,” Caggiano said.
She also encouraged everyone to do self-checks and look for changes in existing moles or any other new growths and get to a dermatologist as soon as possible if they have any concerns.
“The earlier you find this, the more your survival rate increases,” Caggiano said.
Concluding her remarks, Caggaino noted that she will be starting a new immunotherapy treatment later this month and credited events like Relay for Life with playing an important role in funding the development of new cancer treatments.
“Because of events like Relay for Life, treatments for melanoma have greatly advanced in the last three years, which will give me a better chance of surviving this disease,” Caggiano said. “I want to thank Relay for Life and all the volunteers for your hard work and thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story. My hopes are that I can prevent this from happening to someone else.”
Following Caggiano’s remarks, all of the cancer survivors in attendance were invited to join together in walking a lap around the park.


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