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Survivors fight back against cancer

Third annual Craig Relay For Life almost didn't happen

Nicole Inglis
Cassidy Wheeler, 10, left, and Mackinsie Peterson, 5, make their way around the track Friday night during the third annual Craig Relay For Life event at Moffat County High School. Eighteen teams walked the track throughout the night in an effort to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Hans Hallgren

Claysil Butler got up out of her wheelchair and walked. Slowly but surely, she made it the last few feet of the survivor’s lap Friday night at the Craig Relay For Life.

Waiting for her was the applause of 100 team members, community members, cancer survivors and the open arms of her physical therapist, Missy Detzner.

“I’m just glad I’m here,” Butler said. “When I got diagnosed, the doctor told me I didn’t have long to live. It’s been three years since then.”

Three years is a long time, considering she was told she had only four months before her brain cancer would take her.

Detzner, who has been working with Butler for almost three years at Rehabilitation Services of Craig, called Butler a “pretty neat lady.”

“She’s always so focused on what she has to do to get better,” Detzner said. “It’s never a pity party for her situation. She really makes me feel lucky that I do the job I do.”

Butler was only one of many stories that came together at the Moffat County High School track.

Everyone had a story.

Some had grandmothers, great-grandfathers, mothers-in-law or sisters who had died from the disease.

Some said they were there to support the community and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

And some begged and cried to no one in particular to just find a cure.

“We’ve got to do something,” Relay participant Pam Lathrop said.

She had tears in her eyes as she talked about the loss of her grandmother and aunt and the survival of her ex-husband and her mother-in-law. “We have kids and grandkids out here, and we want them to grow up and not have to grow up and worry about this. We’ve got to do it for them.”

A whole community

The third annual Craig Relay For Life almost didn’t happen.

Event chair Ken Prescott, who has been involved in 46 other Relays, said this year’s committee came together late in the process to make the event happen.

“The committee from last year just kind of fell apart because of the economy and health reasons,” Prescott said. “But we said, ‘We are going to have a Relay,’ and here we are. It’s amazing. We put this together in five months, when most committees take the whole year to plan it.”

The amount of money raised this year will be only a fraction of the record-breaking $105,000 that was made at last year’s Relay. The most recent count was $12,000. But Prescott said he still is proud to see the committee and community come together.

“Once you’ve been to a Relay, you always want to be involved. You just know it. You see the survivors take their lap, and if they’re fighting, well, we’re going to fight with them.”

Strong survivors

One of the fighters was Tanya Surbeck, a nurse at The Memorial Hospital. She was asked to give a survivor’s speech at the opening ceremony.

She told her story about how cancer took her grandmother from her when she was 10 years old and her aunt when she was 26. Then, as she became a nurse, she watched as patients she had gotten to know and care about were taken away from her as well.

“It takes a lot from your soul each time someone you’ve grown to care about leaves this world,” she said. “A little piece of your own heart leaves with them, and no cure is in sight.”

When she was diagnosed with advanced thyroid cancer, she felt the fear of treatments, surgeries and death. But it only pushed her to fight harder.

“I want to find a cure for cancer because I don’t want my children to have it,” Surbeck said in her speech. “I don’t want to lose another member of my family to a disease that we should be able to cure. Each day is a gift. It’s another chance to reach for the goals of curing cancer, of making my world and my space a better place to be. And it’s another day to be thankful to the gifts I do have.”

The cancer survivors were treated to a meal catered by Cugino’s and Village Inn. Butler was among them, looking out across the infield from behind orange-tinted glasses.

“It’s hard to believe there’s so many people in Craig with cancer,” she said. “But it makes you feel good to see others here. It says that cancer’s not going to take everyone. We can win.”

At that moment, Detzner came up beside her with a plate full of spaghetti and a burger.

“I’m going to be here next year,” Butler said, looking up at Detzner.

“Darn tootin’ you will,” Detzner replied with a smile. “You’ll be walking, too.”

“No, next year I’m going to walk the whole way,” Butler said. “The whole way around the track, without help.”

Butler’s story wasn’t the only tale of survival at the Relay For Life, but for Detzner, it is one she will never forget.

“To see her walk across the finish line,” Detzner remembered later in the evening. “I mean, every day in therapy, I’m trying to get her to walk, and sometimes it’s tough for her. But to see her make the decision, the fact that she wanted to get up and walk. I just know she’s not done fighting yet.”


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