At the beginning of last year, Tamara Piona began the most hellish journey of her life.
It was a quest for wellness that involved harrowing medical treatments, hair loss and other trials that continually tested her strength of will.
Eighteen months later, she’s still standing, walking in fact, with her spirit soaring. Friday night saw her joining in with those who had faced tribulations like her own, and though a quick jaunt in a circle took mere minutes compared to the hours of pain they’d felt in the past, it was no less important.
The 2013 Relay For Life of Craig took place this weekend with nine teams and 107 total pre-registered participants coming out to support the cancer fundraising event. The community get-together raised about $3,500 leading up to the special night, which was a bit scaled back this year.
Organizer Leeann Cline said the usual location of the Moffat County High School track was changed to the Moffat County Fairgrounds this year in order to prevent heavy winds from being a nuisance. Additionally, they were able to use the adjacent pavilion for the night’s dinner and for tables to set up fundraisers like a silent auction and vending.
Cline almost was unable to attend because of the impending birth of her second child, but she was glad she was able to be there for the festivities.
“Our community’s really awesome and have really stepped up to the plate,” she said.
With a full schedule of activities running through the night, Relay kicked off with a keynote speech by Piona about how being afflicted with cancer has impacted her and her family.
She was diagnosed with stage four adenocarcinoma in her lungs in January 2012, and she immediately was put into chemotherapy and radiation treatment for six weeks.
“That almost killed me,” she said. “I lost all my hair, lost a bunch of weight.”
Piona's medical experts have kept her under careful watch since her initial diagnosis. In November, it was revealed she also had a small brain tumor that doctors were able to “zap out in one day.”
“I just got another CAT scan and MRI the other day, and my head’s completely clear,” she said.
Piona said it was her faith in a higher power that helped her through her dark days.
“I give God all the glory,” she said. “I shouldn’t even be alive right now, according to statistics.”
She also credited her more earthbound support staff: her family and friends.
Her fiancé, Gerald Tamburelli, said being by her side through such an ordeal was difficult, and her son, Christian, 11, took the news very hard.
“I broke down and I was really sad, and ever since I’ve prayed every day that my mom’s cancer will stay killed and never pops back up,” he said.
While Piona participated in the survivors lap around the track — appropriately set to the sounds of Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride” — her fiancé and son joined in for the subsequent caregivers lap, with the never-say-die anthem “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor.
Piona said she was proud of Tamburelli for being able to make it around the track, still recovering from back surgery.
“I love her so much, and I thought I was going to lose her, so I wanted to walk for her,” he said. “I just got off the cane yesterday.”
The feeling of support was immeasurable with the many luminarias lining the inner edge of the track with survivor and supporter sentiments like “With you all the way,” “I love my doctors” or “Don’t give up the fight! You can win!” as well as personal memorials to those who have lost loved ones to cancer.
Sabrina Zachary, member of the Spartan Student Government team with Colorado Northwestern Community College, said she found it important to get involved with the cause, one she hopes the community will continue to support.
“Even if we haven’t all been directly affected by cancer, it touches our hearts and we care about it,” she said.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.