SIDNEY—In the late afternoon heat, Sophia Perkins takes a nap in the tent set up behind Team Luke.5’s table.
“(Luke) never should’ve been able to have kids, and he had her,” Tracy Koontz, of Anna, said. “She was about six months old when he got diagnosed and she fought the whole way with him.”
Koontz’s son, Luke Perkins, lost his battle with testicular cancer on July 19, 2018, at age 22. Even before his diagnosis, he had kept quiet about the disease. Koontz’s aim with relay is not only to provide support for those fighting cancer, but to end the stigma around testicular cancer and encourage others to get educated and tested.
“I just want all the men and boys in that age group, anywhere, if you have a brother, your father, just make sure you check,” Koontz said.
Koontz has participated in Relay for Life for the past four years with Airstream’s team. This is her first year participating with her own team, named in honor of her son. As hard as the loss has been, Koontz commits to relay because of the support it offers people in her community. Most importantly, she relays for a cure.
“We all gotta keep working together so we can get one. Too many people die and it touches everyone’s lives so much.” Koontz said. “We just gotta keep working to get a cure and work together.”
Rebecca Taylor, of Newark, relays with her family for her uncle, grandmother, great-grandfather, and family friends, all of whom have been affected by cancer.
When asked about why she relays, Taylor responded “I learned that it’s easier to help others than just help yourself.”
Sarah Price, Taylor’s guardian, relays to support others going through the pain and challenges that cancer brings. It’s also an opportunity for them to see how cancer affects others and shapes their lives.
“To share our stories, to hear stories, it’s a rough thing,” Price said. “Especially the families that are left after someone passed.”
“There’s always a good beginning and a bad beginning to everything,” Taylor said. “I just want to let everybody know they’re going to a better place than here.”
Along with caregivers and families of those affecting cancer, many participants in relay are survivors themselves.
Mary Stahlman, of Sidney, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2001, shortly after she began participating in relay thanks to influence from a church friend. She is celebrating 18 years being cancer free, and continues to participate in relay with the Sidney First United Methodist Church to help those affected by cancer through their treatment.
“I always think you have to have a positive attitude,” Stahlman said. “When I’m going through something hard, my hope is that I’ll always get through it, one day at a time.”
Stahlman has spent the last 19 years raising money for relay by writing letters and sending them to members of her church, her family, and friends in her life. Beyond the fundraising, she writes letters to those going through cancer treatment, telling them about her experience with cancer and what helped her get through it.
“I never tell anybody what to do, but I’ll tell them what helped me get through chemo and what helped me get through radiation. Maybe that won’t help them, but maybe one little thing in it will,” Stahlman said.
For Stahlman, cancer has a unique way of uniting people as a family. Treatment can be isolating and lonely, and it becomes important to let people in, accept support from others, and to not be afraid to ask for help.
“I think often you don’t want to let people help you, you want to think that you take care of yourself, but let people help you, and know that there are many people who will support you,” Stahlman said. “Let them help you, talk to other cancer survivors. There’s a lot of support out there.”
The 18-hour relay began with a survivors lap.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825