By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
Shannon Buron and Kathleen Freeman, amid several thousand others, sat down to a dinner of steak and salad Friday, sharing small talk and even a few laughs.
Buron, 19, and Freeman, 53, do not know each other. Indeed, the women had never spoken before sitting across from each other at the table. But they share a deep bond: both are cancer survivors walking in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
Buron, Freeman and a couple thousand other cancer survivors, supporters and community members gathered on Warren’s Courthouse Square Friday evening. They began the 24-hour walk at 6 p.m. and will continue until 6 p.m. tonight, raising money for research and to help those fighting cancer.
JoAnn Crank, ACS regional vice president, said the Warren relay has been an annual event for 20 years and is the largest in the state. Last year, $348,000 was raised; the target for this year is $330,000.
Crank said this year’s event has about 70 teams of 10 or more people who have pledged to walk the track for 24 hours. At least one person from each of the teams has to be walking at all times. Each person donates $100 to participate and the teams raise money all year long.
There are also games for kids and an abundance of informational tents and services stationed around the square.
“This is a party with a purpose. This is what brings the community together to celebrate the lives of all these cancer survivors. We want to celebrate those who have survived and remember those we have lost,” she said.
The “Survivors Tent” situated in the center of the square is full of survivors such as Buron and Freeman, with stories to tell. Survivors gathered in the tent just before the start of the walk to enjoy a meal provided by Outback Steakhouse in Niles and spend time with fellow survivors.
Freeman was diagnosed with breast cancer once in 2005 and again, in the other breast, in 2006. She said the battle with cancer has not been easy, but she realized several years ago that she must continue her fight and find strength one day at a time.
“At first I was crying all the time, but then I realized I had to suck it up and get it together and that is what I did,” she said.
Freeman’s initial goal was to survive to see her son graduate from high school. She witnessed that accomplishment last year and now knocks on the wooded table at which she is seated thanking God she is still going strong.
Freeman has been coming to the Relay for Life for six years. She said the early years were difficult, and sometimes still are, seeing the young kids battling cancer.
Buron could have very well been one of those young faces who brought Freeman to tears. She was diagnosed with bone cancer while in elementary school and understands what it is like to battle cancer as a child. She recommends anyone at any age with an unexplained lump visit the doctor for early diagnoses and treatment.
Buron said the annual Relay for Life is a means of connecting with others.
“Here, I can be with people who understand and I can get to know more people,” she said. “It is also really good to honor those who have passed.”
Sheryl Gumino, 41, of Warren, is a six-year cancer survivor and attends the Relay for Life annually with her mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer five years before Gumino’s diagnosis. She said she and her mother just find the event to be an excellent means of support.
“I just like to support our fellow survivors and the community, plus this is just a fun event,” she said.
Gumino said anyone battling cancer should reach out to the American Cancer Society for support. She said the organization was there for her for everything from support to finding wigs while she was being treated.