Ceremony brings awareness to cancer

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Walking by the tables set up in the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Seymour on Saturday night, Marsha Abraham and her daughter, Lisa Kloeker, found the bag with Louis Abraham’s name on it.

Louis was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2017 and died Jan. 13, 2018, at the age of 74, surrounded by his family.

Marsha said it made her sad when she saw Louis’ name on the bag.

“We were married for 50 years, and it’s hard,” she said. “This is such a nice way to honor him and everyone else.”

Kloeker said it made her proud that as people walked by reading the names on the bags that her father’s name was on one of them. He died within five months after being diagnosed with cancer.

“We were here last year, and we had to remember daddy,” Kloeker said. “The first year after Dad passed away, they had this at the gym, and we walked it.”

After making their way around the tables and viewing the bags Saturday, the mother and daughter stood near the church carport, where ESA One Step One Miracle Relay for Life team members Jan Engel and Julia Aker took turns reading names of people who had fought against cancer.

Names were read at the top and bottom of each hour, beginning at 6 p.m. and running through 9 p.m.

“I know Dad is smiling right now, and I had his picture pulled up on my phone as they read his name,” Kloeker said. “His last words to us as he raised his hand was ‘I love you all,’ and not a lot of people get that chance.”

The Relay for Life went virtual last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and those involved locally decided to do a drive-thru Luminaria Ceremony. This year, Relay for Life was conducted in person, and the drive-thru Luminaria Ceremony was conducted again.

Engel said the way the drive-thru is set up is better for the older people who would have a hard time walking around the track.

Visitors were encouraged to park before or after driving or walking through to listen to the names being read.

Typically, one canned good is placed in each bag along with a candle, but it was too windy to take a chance with candles this year, so inside each bag were two canned goods, Engel said.

Robin Boicourt and Lisa Bradford are co-captains of the ESA One Step One Miracle team.

“Last year, we tried placing glow sticks in the bags, but they didn’t show up very well,” Boicourt said. “We have 451 bags out here so far, but before the night’s over, there will be more because people can purchase them here.”

She said when the ceremony was over, the donated canned goods were given to The Alley at First Baptist Church. She estimated they would receive around 1,300 canned goods.

“The recommended donation for each bag is $10, but if someone wants a bag and can’t pay, they can still get a bag. We never turn anyone down who wants one,” Engel said.

Engel and Aker’s names were on bags, too. Both battled breast cancer — Aker in 2001 and Engel in 2011.

A lot of the team’s funds are raised by sponsorships and luminary bags and from campaign letters sent out to family and friends.

“We started a little late this year, but usually around February, we start sending out letters along with a luminary list that can be filled out and sent back for those who would like to make a donation for a bag or they can do more than one,” Boicourt said.

Jackson County is a part of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Columbus. The local teams are ESA One Step One Miracle, Caring Hearts and Immanuel Cancer Warriors.

Between the three teams, more than $10,000 has been raised for the American Cancer Society this year.

“We want to be good stewards and raise as much money for research as we can,” Boicourt said. “We decorate most of our bags, and then the Caring Hearts team here in Seymour has Mary Beth Covert, who decorates bags, and people can decorate their own if they want to, like Julia and my granddaughter, Charlea, did.”

Charlea Boicourt designed a bag in honor of her aunt, Jan Engel, and one in memory of Wanda Butler, her grandmother who died from cancer.

“She has a grandmother with a pool and one without a pool and wanted to make a bag for her grandma who had a pool,” Boicourt said. “She was a Purdue fan, too, so Charlea has that on one side, and on the other side she wrote ‘Grandma with a pool’ and drew a swimming pool.”

This year, a display was added to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. There was a cross, a rose, a lantern, a flag and a captain’s cap along with a child-size firetruck belonging to Bradford.

“My grandfather was a fireman in northern Kentucky for almost 30 years, and he passed away in the 1970s,” Bradford said. “About 10 or 12 years ago, I was contacted by the department and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and that same year he was inducted, I came across that firetruck at an auction in Seymour, so I bought it.”

Other team members helping at the event included Dee Hess, Nancy Engle, Amberly Brewer, Mildred Engel and Randy Boicourt.

Carol Hart stopped by the registration table to make a donation for a bag in memory of her husband, George Hart, who died from cancer Aug. 7, 2019, at the age of 62.

Sisters Kacee Brewer, 6, and Karlee Brewer, 10, were at the ceremony admiring the bag with their grandmother Mary Brewer’s name and picture on it.

“She passed away in November, and it’s amazing to see a bag here for her,” Karlee said. “Because we know she’s in a better place and not having to go through pain anymore.”

Senior Community Development Manager Kathy Toburen of Columbus said she had recently reached out to Aker, Jan Engel and Boicourt to see if there was anything else they needed for the event.

“I told them they are great for continuing to promote this in their community, and I really appreciate them and what they do,” Toburen said.

According to cancer.org, there will be an estimated 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 608,570 cancer deaths in the United States this year. In Indiana alone, there will be an estimated 39,010 new cases and estimated 13,460 cancer deaths.