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.
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