Ball State instructor, student share experience with cancer as Relay For Life begins



The American Cancer Society's walk to fight back and end cancer, Relay For Life, begins tonight for all of Delaware County – lasting from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m at the Delaware Country Fairgrounds.

Relay For Life is is a fundraising walk where teams of survivors, families and friends walk around a track and participate in events to help raise money to go towards cancer research and to one day end the disease.

Relay For Life events take place in more than 5,200 communities and 20 countries, according to Each event is special to its community, but the movement's true power lies in the combined commitment of thousands of participants, volunteers, and supporters to help the American Cancer Society save lives from cancer.

The Relay For Life of Delaware County event will be divided up into sections with the opening ceremony starting at 5:30 p.m. and the survivors lap following at 6 p.m.

Other major highlights of the night include the Caregivers Lap, live auction, Luminaria Ceremony, "Miss-ter Relay" and the closing ceremony – where participants come together to celebrate their accomplishments and remember those who have lost the fight to cancer and to commit to those ones who continue the fight against the disease.

Renae Adams, Community Manager of Relay for Life said Relay For Life is a very cool, emotional and moving event that brings people together.

“This is a family friendly event that is open to everyone,” Adams said. “We really want everyone to come together and take the time honor and celebrate those cancer survivors that we still have with us and also take time to remember the ones who have unfortunately passed away.”

As of right now, there are 75 local teams and 1,190 registered participants adding to a total of $105,117.08 raised in donations before the event even begins.

Adams said even if you may not have personally been affected by cancer, Relay For Life is an important event for everyone to donate and get involved with.

“Most of our donations that we connect goes to cancer research and unfortunately everyone who I have ever met in my life has been touched by cancer in some sort of way or knows someone who has cancer,” Adams said. “Those fundraising dollars that we are raising are going towards really important research that can hopefully help the next generation or even a family member that you know. We are fundraising for people to never have to hear the words ‘you have cancer’ again.”

For Kendra Zenisek, Ball State Instructor and Physical Fitness and Wellness program coordinator, cancer is personal and she heard those exact words 7 years ago.

“I was diagnosed with cervical cancer after a routine screening came back with abnormal results. I had no other signs/symptoms or indications that anything was wrong,” Zenisek said. “I spent my 30th birthday in a doctor’s office completing pre-op testing for surgery that would ultimately lead to my diagnosis, not exactly an ideal celebration for a new decade of life.”

Zenisek said that diagnosis ended up changing her life.

“It was nothing less than a shock and a proceeding whirlwind of doctor’s appointments across the country and the realization that I was now a cancer patient,” she said. “Some days that was an overwhelming thought process, other days the fighter attitude took the forefront.”

During her treatment and recovery from complications, she said she had support from her friends and family though the situation was difficult for everyone involved. 

“Fortunately, during my treatment and recovery from complications, I had a very strong support network – some of the individuals I knew from the first day would be my strongest supporters, some surprisingly rose to the occasion, and unfortunately some it was too much for,” Zenisek said. “I think for your loved ones, when anyone battles cancer, there is a great feeling of helplessness.”

Even though she is now going on eight years of being cancer free, Zenisek said it is something that is still with her.

“It feels great most days [being a survivor]. Other days there are the lingering thoughts of ‘what if,'” she said. “Being diagnosed with cancer is scary without a doubt, but perhaps the scariest words to hear might be 'your cancer is back' as you already have an idea of what the journey may entail. I am just thankful for every day I have not heard those words.”

The number of those who have cancer continues to rise each year with about over 1,600,000 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2016, according to the American Cancer Society.

For Samantha Shoemaker, a Ball State junior social work major, the word cancer was introduced to her at a young age.

“My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was in first grade,” Shoemaker said. “It was found late, so he decided to use the experimental and research based procedures to help cure cancer down the road.”

He fought for about a year but cancer won and he passed away when Shoemaker was in second grade, the day before her birthday.

“Looking back, while I was devastated and upset, it didn't hit me until later on. I was too young and naive to understand what had happened,” Shoemaker said. “I experienced a lot of things that most people don't go through until later on in life.”

Shoemaker said living through what her dad went through helped her heal and relate to different people as she was growing up, until she found out her mom had cancer.

“My mom on the other hand was a much different situation. My mom's cancer was found early on,” Shoemaker said. “She was able to have surgery and remove her uterus, where the cancer began, and after a few rounds on chemo, she looks to be cancer free.”

It has been six months now since the surgery but Shoemaker said it’s still hard.

“This round of cancer was especially difficult for me. Since my dad passed away I grew really close and attached to my mom,” Shoemaker said. “I also had a very bleak outlook on the situation, I was preparing for the worst. I came home often, and laid low in class work and studies to try to be home with her as much as possible.”

But instead of feeling that way, Shoemaker said she now stays positive and focuses on spending as much time as she can with her mom, who is currently fighting other health issues.

“I understand how much pain and suffering she went through and still is, so I'm in a position where I do spend as much time with her, especially this summer, because I understand that one day it could be too much,” Shoemaker said. “I want her to know now, how much she means to me.”

Neither Zenisek or Shoemaker have personally participated in Relay For Life but they both believe the event and message is important.

“I think cancer is something that will eventually affects us all either directly or indirectly,” Zenisek said.“Treatment options are getting more advanced, screening processes are detecting cancer earlier, and most importantly more survivors are here to share their stories. But cancer still exists and unfortunately people still lose the battle.”

She also believes there is more to be done.

“More research and education are still needed, those battling cancer still need support and resources, and supports/loved ones most definitely still need support,” Zenisek said. “Relay for Life not only raises money for these important outcomes, but allows individuals come together to create a community and a community is what it takes to defeat cancer.”

Shoemaker agrees and said people should get involved in the fight.

“I think it's extremely important for people who aren't affected to want to join the fight against cancer. Inevitably cancer is going to be a part of their life in someway,” Shoemaker said. “Even if not, we as people should always be wanting to better each other.”


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