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Cancer patients, survivors, victims to be celebrated at Relay for Life

By Debbie Gardner Assistant Managing Editor WILBRAHAM -- The track at Wilbraham & Monson Academy (WMA) will be transformed from a site for competition to a haven of camaradie, comfort and celebration May 15 to 16 as the school hosts the town's fifth annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life. The walk begins with a survivor's lap at 6 p.m. on May 15 and will continue overnight, culminating with a fight back ceremony at 11 a.m. on the 16th, followed by closing remarks at noon. Interested walkers and supporters can register to participate or donate at www.relayforlife.org/wilbraham. Organized and co-chaired by two WMA students, senior Stephanie Robbins and junior Jackie Smith, this year's event invited Wilbraham resident and oncology surgeon Dr. Mohamed Hamdani to be its honorary chairperson. Dr. Hamdani is a cancer survivor. In November 2007 he was diagnosed with stage three prostate cancer. The journey from diagnosis through treatment to recovery and survivorship has transformed the way this successful surgeon approaches his life's work. "I told so many people that they had cancer and they had to have surgery and I thought I understood [their emotions] and I was bringing the news to them the softest way possible," Hamdani said. "And it turned out [when I was the patient], that I really didn't know much [about how they were feeling]." He talked of "everything going dark, and the walls closing in" when he learned he had cancer, of how he experienced first denial, then fear, then worry about his family. And, he said, for the first time he understood how bereft a cancer patient feels. "People who have cancer are isolated. They are totally alone [and] they don't know what to do," Hamdani said. "Family and friends need to know that," he continued. "My message to friends and family and co-workers is to give [cancer patients] all the love they need." He credited his wife, children, colleagues, and especially his good friends Michelle and David Glidden, honorary co-chairs of last year's Relay for Life, with helping him navigate his way through his ordeal. Michelle, he said, is herself a breast cancer survivor. Hamdani said his goal as honorary chair of this year's Relay is to spread the word that cancer can strike anyone, at any time. "Cancer can hit any of us, whether we are women, men, black, white, children, any age . and we will all feel the same way," he said. "We must do more to fight this dreaded disease." He invited area cancer survivors to register for the relay and join him in walking the opening survivor's lap, and then sit down and share a meal with others who have walked the same road from diagnosis to recovery. "We sit down with people who have had the same problem and share . A lot of people become great friends," he said. "You don't feel you're so alone. We [cancer survivors] are a great big family." The survivor's lap will be followed by a caregiver's walk, a birthday party celebration, a luminaries ceremony to remember those who lost their fight with cancer, and many more events. "Every hour we have a program," Hamdani said. "It's great to see people coming together [to fight this disease.] He also praised WMA and its students for taking a leading role in organizing the annual Relay for Life, which last year raised $95,000 for cancer research. "We call it the Wilbraham Relay but we have many more people from almost every country of the world because [the academy] has kids from all over," Hamdani said. "I call it the United Nations Relay." And he's very proud to be a part of the community's fundraisng to fight cancer. "We're raising money for the people who are not as fortunate as me, who had good health insurance and good family support and good friend support," Hamdani said. "We can help them through this endeavor." For a complete listing of the Relay for Life programs by hour, visit www.TheReminder.com and click on the Wilbraham/Hampden link.

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