Eric Gaikowski of Britton is the Honorary Survivor for this year’s Marshall County Relay For Life set for Saturday.
MC Relay Marking 20th Year
The Marshall County Relay For Life will celebrate its 20th anniversary when the annual event kicks off at noon on Saturday at Hugh Schilling Field in Britton.
Since beginning in the year 2000, the Relay has raised over $1.3 million for cancer research and for assistance for area residents battling the disease. The event was held in Lake City and Eden the past two years during the construction of the Event Center.
This year’s honorary survivor, Eric Gaikowski, is a living testament of the progress made in fighting the disease. At the age of four, Eric, who had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma of the soft tissue at just six months of age, was the first Honorary Survivor and walked with his mother, Joleen, in that first Relay for Life.
“At first we thought it was asthma because it runs in my family,” recalled Joleen. “Then we thought it was a cyst, but when he got into surgery we found out it was cancer.”
Doctors were surprised because Ewing’s sarcoma is a bone cancer usually found in people ages 10-25. To have it at Eric’s age and for it to be soft tissue was very rare.
Nine months of intense chemotherapy followed.
“He had chemo every two or three weeks with doses as high as his body could tolerate,” said Joleen. “Eric went through a pile of stuff, but a year later he was declared cancer-free. We were lucky he didn’t have to have radiation because that would have killed the bone growth and required reconstructive surgery.”
Joleen said that she remembers being surprised at how many children are affected by cancer.
“When we got to the children’s cancer ward I was surprised how many kids were actually there. Every room was full.”
Today, Gaikowski, a 2014 Britton-Hecla graduate, is a student at Dakota State University and has been cancer-free for 22.5 years. He will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in network security and administration in May of 2020.
World-wide, four million people come together each year at Relay For Life events to support the American Cancer Society and help finish the fight against cancer. In South Dakota, the American Cancer Society helps support cancer survivors, offers information and education on the cancer.org website, provides leadership and education for the health care community, helps cancer patients access care, fights cancer through public policy, and plays a major role in major cancer research breakthroughs by helping fund that research.
Cancer survivors, along with families and caregivers, and those who have died from the disease are the focus of the Relay each year. Registration for survivors will run from 11 a.m.-noon at the Event Center. Pastor Terrill Sorensen will give the invocation at 12:15 p.m., followed by the flag presentation and Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem sung by Stephanie Symens.
Survivors will kick off this year’s event with the traditional Survivor’s Lap. Golf Carts are available for those unable to walk on the track. The opening lap will be followed by the team lap with teams being introduced at that time and the release of balloons.
Activities will include games and Fun Laps, Bingo from 3-5 p.m., and a silent auction. Teams will have food items for sale during the Relay and a concession stand will be available. Austin Sasker of Rocktail Entertainment will provide music.
Fun Laps planned include Favorite Animal, Movie Star/Glam, Favorite Movie, Sports Team/Sport, YMCA, Hokey Pokey, Wear Purple In Honor Of A Survivor, Chicken Dance, Pajamas/Slippers, Your Favorite Hero, Beach Ball, Favorite Theme from Past Years (sign), and Outlandish Hat.
Teams will place luminaries in honor of survivors and caregivers and in memory of those who have lost their fight against cancer along the track. Luminaries and solar lights may be purchased on Saturday. The Luminaria Ceremony will be held at 9:30 p.m. and the Candlelight Ceremony is planned for 10:30 p.m.
The closing ceremony, including awards and refreshments, will wrap up the day beginning at 11 p.m.