PORTAGE | Two years ago, Heather Gubocki participated in Portage Relay for Life for all those afflicted with cancer.
Two years ago, she would never have dreamed one of those people would be her.
“I was diagnosed with cervical cancer at my 35th birthday last year,” said Gubocki, of Hobart.
Since a hysterectomy in May 2012, Gubocki has been cancer-free.
“It’s still surreal, just sitting here,” said Gubocki.
This year, Gubocki and her family were guests at the Survivors Dinner at the Portage Relay for Life, held Saturday evening at Willowcreek Middle School.
For the 16th annual event, 40 teams camped around the school’s outdoor track for the marathon event, which began at 1 p.m. and was scheduled to end at 8 a.m. Sunday.
Throughout the day and night, at least one member of each team walked the track continuously, because “cancer never sleeps,” said Vicki Mills, Portage Relay for Life chairperson.
Mills was “excited” that the Survivors Dinner treated 123 cancer survivors, an increase from the usual 50 to 60 people at the feast, which is donated each year by Outback Steakhouse in Merrillville.
“I think people are more comfortable saying they had cancer,” said Mills. “It comes with more awareness of the disease.”
The event usually raises about $60,000 each year for the American Cancer Society, said Mills. Participants look forward to evening-long events, including cheer and tumbling performances, free chair massages, and the luminaria ceremony, where cancer victims are remembered.
Prizes were awarded for best decorated campsite and most team spirit, and the “golden pillow award” was given to team members who stay out all night. Certain hours saw themed laps, including a Conga Line lap and a Best Bedhead lap.
The Valparaiso Care and Rehabilitation team fired up its large grill and sold shish kabobs, grilled corn, bratwurst, hot dogs and ribs. The team earned $1,200 last year for the American Cancer Society, $600 of which was through food sales.
“We look forward to giving back every single year,” said Jennifer Blaszkiewicz, a team member and dietary assistant manager at Valpo Care and Rehab. “We do it for everybody who has or had ever had cancer.”
The nine-member team proudly displayed its Super Hero Wall, where names of friends and family members afflicted by cancer were written on the emblems of cartoon superheroes, including Batman, Spiderman and Wonder Woman.
“Last year, we were the last people on the field,” said Kelly Kirk, team captain.
Gubocki said her family and fiancé Don Banaski were her superheroes throughout her diagnosis and surgery.
“I’ve had huge support from my family and friends,” said Gubocki, who teaches at Kyle Elementary School in Portage.
Gubocki’s mother, Lizanne Pilot, of Chicago, reflected on the support of Relay for Life participants and her family’s gratefulness for her daughter’s recovery.
“There are a lot of smiles on people’s faces today,” said Pilot.