Econ 919: Cancer fighters, survivors, and caregivers walk for a cause

May 31, 2019

  Saturday, the Central Peninsula chapter of the American Cancer Society holds its biggest fundraiser of the year, the Relay for Life. It’s something they’ve done for most of the decade, but there is a change this year: The course will be laid out at Soldotna Creek Park, and be more of a path than an oval track.

KDLL spoke with three members of the local chapter — all volunteers — during last week’s KDLL spring fundraiser. First we’ll hear from Alana Martin, and then Laura Niemczyk and Joe Yourkowski.

Alana Martin: You can contact me if you'd like to start a team. So give me a call to 524-109 and I will happily get your team started. But you can come as an individual as well. We will be happy to have you and your families.

Laura Niemczyk: Anytime, noon to six we can register you as you're walking in to Soldotna Creek Park. That's easy peasy lemon squeezy. We kick off relay with our opening ceremonies. And as part of our opening ceremonies, we always have a survivor and caregiver give a speech to talk about their journey and what they went through and how it’s impacted them. And it's very powerful and always moving event. This year my son here will be our survivor speaker and I will be our caregiver speaker.

KDLL: Would you guys care to give us a sneak preview of your of your speeches?

Joe Yourkowski: Well, I was diagnosed with leukemia when I was four and a half years old. And I went through three and a half years of long and hard treatment of chemotherapy treatments, spinal taps, blood transfusions, the whole works. And I was five successfully won my battle and I went through five years of remission and then somewhere between my seventh and eighth grade year, I was deemed cured.

KDLL: Now is that common? I mean, you hear leukemia and you think….

Yourkowski: Childhood leukemia is pretty curable. It has very high survival rates. And you know, that's thanks to the research money donated by all the you guys who are going to come to Relay for Life Saturday, which will be awesome. But you know, there's still people in the hospital, kids who did not make it. I had a roommate pass away while I was receiving treatment.

KDLL: Oh, that's gonna be tough for a kid.

Yourkowski: Absolutely. 

KDLL: How old are you now? 

Yourkowski: I'm 17 now 17. 

KDLL: Did you graduate? 

Yourkowski: Nope. I got one more year of high school. So okay.

KDLL: And what about your sneak preview of your story,

Niemczyk: I'm going to talk about what it's like to have a doctor look you in the face and tell you that your child has cancer. And that right there is one of the hardest things I've ever had to experience and live through. I'm thankful that the American Cancer Society back in the late 70s and early 80s helped to fund the research that came up with a protocol that has proved to be 90% effective in treating childhood leukemia. Adult leukemia is still a different battle than childhood leukemia. But without the support of the American Cancer Society. We might not be where we are. And my son might not be sitting here next to me.

KDLL: How did the American Cancer Society help? Do they help on local levels? Or what's it all research?

Niemczyk: That's a great question. Everyone always wants to know, where does the money go? They are, they help on two different levels. On the first level, they do fund different protocols and treatment plans that are going on throughout the United States. So sometimes the money is being spent to help fund these research studies that are usually joint between different universities and hospitals and so forth to continue finding treatments and cures for cancer. They also help on the local level through the money that's raised with Relay for Life. There's definitely quite a few and one of the ones we probably benefited from the most was the nights of free lodging. There are many Hope Lodges and Ronald McDonald Houses that have been established throughout the United States. But when there isn't necessarily a Hope Lodge to stay at or a McDonald Houses near where you're having treatment, the American Cancer Society has partnered with local hotels surrounding hospitals that either give you very reduced rates or even free nights of lodging. Joey was treated down at Seattle Children's Hospital. And so that required us to be you know, flying down there periodically throughout his treatment program protocol. And having the the ability to be able to say okay, we're going to stay in a hotel that is very close to your hospital, but we're not going to be paying the outrageous rate made it a little bit easier on me financially to be able to help take care of this because as you know, treating cancer is not cheap.

Our number this week is $16,422.98, which is almost one-third of the way to this year’s Relay for Life goal of $51,500. You can donate online or better yet at the Relay itself, which is from noon to six Saturday at Soldotna Creek Park.