Relay for Life is June 7

By Jann Wiswall

Some of the most important advice imparted by the American Cancer Society is to know your risk for cancer and to know your body. If there’s cancer in your genetic history, there’s an increased chance that you will be diagnosed with cancer. If you practice regular self-exams and have routine checkups, you’ll have the best chance of detecting cancer early. And early detection means better treatment outcomes.

One Ellicottville resident knows only too well the benefits of taking this advice.

Shawna Gursky knew her risk for breast cancer was high. Her mother is a 25-year breast cancer survivor. Her cousin is a breast cancer survivor. So Gursky had been doing monthly self-breast exams religiously since age 18.

Last July, at age 28, she felt a lump.

“I guess I wasn’t really surprised since there’s a history,” she said. “Somehow I was ready for it, and ready to fight it.”

In September, a month after her 29th birthday, Gursky had a double mastectomy, followed by three months of chemotherapy and, just last week, reconstructive surgery.

And on Saturday, June 7, she’ll tell her story about being a 9-month cancer survivor at the opening ceremony of this year’s Relay for Life of Cattaraugus County.

Gursky, who works as a child specialist with Cattaraugus Community Action, has been participating in Ellicottville’s Relay for Life for several years as a way to support her family and to help raise awareness about the disease. This year, she signed on as a member of the Relay for Life coordinating committee. Recently, she also got involved in a support group for young cancer survivors at Roswell Cancer Institute.

“Younger survivors have many of the same fears as all survivors, but we have some unique fears, too. Will we get married, have children, enjoy a long life? So many of our hopes and dreams are up in the air,” she said.

For Gursky, Saturday’s event is about “the celebration of life. A lot of people don’t get a second chance. This is their day.”

Relay for Life, the world’s largest walk to end cancer, is a global fundraiser that honors cancer survivors, remembers loved ones lost and raises awareness about what we can do to stay well and prevent cancer. According to the Relay website, more than 4 million people in some 20 countries raise as much as $400 million each year for the Relay for Life movement. The American Cancer Society puts these donations to work, investing in groundbreaking research in every type of cancer and providing free information and services to cancer patients and their caregivers.

The Cattaraugus County event begins at noon on Saturday, June 7, at Ellicottville Central School’s football field with the opening ceremony and keeps going until midnight. Relay teams, families and spectators set up tents around the track for the entire event. Throughout the day and into the night, members of each team take turns walking or running around the track until they collectively complete the 9.6-mile course.

The opening ceremony is followed by the always moving and inspiring survivors’ and caregivers’ laps around the field and the survivors’ reception in the VIP tent, which will be accompanied by a performance by the Mud Cat Dulcimers.

At 2 p.m., you’re invited to wear pink or yellow to honor the life of young Chelsie Carpenter, whose mother, Lori, has been an active Relay supporter and coordinator of the Remembering Chelsie Live, Laugh, Love team since losing Chelsie to cancer in 2009.

Then at 3 p.m., the ECS/ETA team is coordinating an event to honor the memory of Dale Golley, who fought hard but lost his battle to cancer this winter. The team’s goal is to get at least 100 people on the track wearing camouflage clothing or accessories to take a lap around the field.

Of course, Relay for Life is a family-friendly event, so activities including a free Zumba class, a Headstands for Hope challenge and even a Relay Rugby event are scheduled throughout the day. And, the Suzie’s Crew relay team will be running the concession stand with plenty of goodies available to keep your energy level up all day long.

Then at 9:30 p.m., you’ll want to stay (or return) for the Luminaria Ceremony, which honors loved ones who have survived or lost their battles with cancer by lighting candles that are placed in personalized bags. To see the lights — as many as 500 this year — set against the night sky is an inspiration to all.

Don’t forget: Relay for Life is a fundraiser! You can support the effort in many ways — by donating to one (or all) of the Ellicottville relay teams on Saturday, by donating to a team or dedicating a Luminaria online at, by making a donation in the name of a loved one or survivor, or by donating to Relay for Life of Cattaraugus County.

Your support makes a difference to Gursky and all of the survivors, caregivers and volunteers who have made Ellicottville’s Relay for Life a success for so many years. So come for an hour or stay for the day. You’ll learn something you didn’t know. And you’ll be contributing to the fight to end cancer.

Relay for Life of Cattaraugus County

June 7, Schedule of Events

12 p.m. Opening Ceremony

12:20 p.m. Survivors’ Lap

12:30 p.m. Caregivers’ Lap

1 p.m. Survivors’ Reception

1 p.m. Mud Cat Dulcimers

2 p.m. Remembering Chelsie Lap (wear pink or yellow)

2:30 p.m. Miss(ter) Relay Contest

3 p.m. Dale Golley Remembrance Lap (wear camo)

4 p.m. Zumba with Kim Watt

6 p.m. Head Stands for Hope

8 p.m. Relay Rugby

9:30 p.m. Luminaria Ceremony