KODIAK — One by one, the cancer survivors in Springhill Hall stood, introduced themselves and said how long they had been beating the disease — more than 20 years for some and a year or less for others.

In one of the celebrations leading to the Kodiak Relay for Life beginning Friday, the survivor dinner was a Thanksgiving meal in July with all the trimmings in honor of cancer survivors, their families and caretakers.

The idea behind the Thanksgiving meal was to give thanks for every day — and every birthday — since a diagnosis of cancer, which can instantly change a life.

The age of survivors in the room ranged from elementary schooler Madisyn Sickafoose, who this month is a one-year survivor, her mother said, to Wilma Finlay, who is 99 years old and has beaten cancer for 19 years.

Daughter Jan Finlay attended the event with Wilma and recently completed a six-month checkup for cancer in June. This was her first survivors’ dinner.

“When I heard everybody going around saying how long they survived, that really gave me hope,” Jan said.

“It was another shot in the arm, so to speak, no pun intended, to hear these people and how long they’ve survived, and hear there’s life after cancer and there’s a long life after cancer,” Jan said. “So that was encouraging to me.”

The treatment for Jan’s cancer included 28 radiation session over six weeks and chemotherapy at Coos Bay, Ore., which has left her weak.

But at the survivors’ dinner Judy Williams, a cancer survivor for 11 years, introduced herself to Jan — lending her experience, support and a listening ear.

“You get a lot of encouragement as you are going through this,” Jan said, from doctors and medical professionals. “Then you go home and you get back into the routine and it’s really hard. But just to hear a word of encouragement about it was really neat.”

The upbeat nature of the event was something Sarah Nugent, chairwoman for the dinner, was aiming for.

She wanted the event, instead of focusing too much on medical histories or surgeries, to focus on the positive.

“We’ll talk about how many years you are a survivor and we’ll celebrate your strength and we’ll celebrate how many birthdays you’ve had since. I just want to make this a celebration,” she told those assembled.

Cancer survivors are invited to kick off the Relay for Life Friday by walking the first lap around Baranof Park track after opening ceremonies at 6 p.m.

Contact Mirror writer Wes Hanna at whan

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