‘Night of Heroes’

ost police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, military personnel and educators don’t consider themselves superheroes.

But Friday during Relay for Life of Jackson County at Seymour High School’s Bulleit Stadium, they were superheroes for a night.

During “A Night of Heroes,” local men and women who serve in those capacities walked alongside cancer survivors and their families, friends and caregivers in 10-minute increments.

With the temperature in the 70s, some of the firefighters, including Mike Bequeret of the Seymour Fire Department, wore their full gear, including boots, turnout pants and coat, a helmet, and an oxygen tank and mask.

“It’s just a job, and that’s the way we look at it,” said Bequeret, who has been a firefighter for 21 years. “We go to work like everybody else, and we do our jobs and go home.”

Bequeret said this was his first time participating in Relay for Life.

“It’s something that we always wanted to do, and ‘A Night of Heroes’ came along, and we talked to the chief, and he said, ‘Go for it,’” he said.

Bequeret also was walking in memory of his grandmother and grandfather, who both died of cancer.

“It’s always on my mind,” he said.

Bequeret said it was great to see hundreds of people come out to show their support.

“It’s amazing how many people show up for an event like this,” he said. “It’s really neat.”

Before the community heroes began their laps, cancer survivors took to the track. On their second lap, caregivers joined them. Then on the third lap, with Sarah McLachlan’s emotional song “I Will Remember You” playing, people walked in remembrance of those who have died of cancer.

Rick Harbrueger of Crothersville and Dwight Gregory of Seymour walked together near the back of the stream of people on the track.

They didn’t know each other before Friday night, but they learned they had one thing in common — both are basal skin cancer survivors.

Harbrueger was diagnosed in 2013 at age 61.

“I had a thing on the back of my shoulder that looked like a birthmark, and it itched,” he said.

He went to a couple of doctors before having it removed. They removed three layers of it and stitched his skin back up.

Harbrueger said it was scary hearing the diagnosis, but he was happy a year later to learn he was cancer-free.

A few months ago, though, the emotions returned when he learned his son, Steve Bloom, was diagnosed with throat cancer.

“He was tore up,” Harbrueger said of his son. “He goes in (today) to find out more about it. But it’s not progressive, and (doctors) are sure they can get it off.”

Since Harbrueger has been through cancer, he told his son to pray and follow the doctor’s orders.

On Friday, Harbrueger was glad to be able to participate in Relay for Life for the second time and walk with his son. He liked seeing people there to support a good cause.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It feels great to know that everybody cares.”

Gregory said his diagnosis was in 2010 after returning home from serving with the U.S. Army overseas in the desert. The cancerous spot was on his forehead.

“I thought it was a pimple at first, but it kept growing and growing, and I just had a big knot in the middle of my forehead,” he said. “(Doctors) had to cut open my forehead and dig it all out.”

Just like anyone else learning of a cancer diagnosis, Gregory said the news was tough to hear.

“I have been in four different conflicts, and I came home and found out I had that, so it was kind of shocking,” said Gregory, who served 11 years in the U.S. Army. “I was scared because at first, they take it out and they have to biopsy it and all that. They told me it was the basal type, so they just dug it out.”

Gregory still goes to the doctor every six months for a checkup. But he now has another issue to deal with — diabetic neuropathy.

He recently went through back surgery, and he’s going to the doctor this week to take care of an infection in both feet, so he had to use a cane to walk in Relay for Life.

But he was determined to participate in the event for the first time since cancer has touched not only his own life but close family members, too. His father, Hubert, is a colon cancer survivor; his mother, Betty, had breast cancer; and his sister died of breast cancer in 2006.

“I watched my dad work his whole life, and he had colon cancer and had three feet of his colon removed,” Gregory said. “It’s hard for him to really get out and do a whole lot, but he does a lot. He surprises me. He doesn’t let it get him down at all.”

Gregory said it has been hard to deal with everything he has gone through. But he is inspired by his parents and his 2-year-old son to keep pushing forward.

Walking in Relay for Life put it all in perspective.

“I know I’m going to go home and I’m going to cry myself to sleep tonight, but it’s a good thing,” he said, smiling. “I’m just happy that I can come out here and walk. It makes you feel like, ‘I’m not so worthless and I can still do it.’”

Also walking on the track were Rebecca Todd of Seymour and her daughters, Patty, 6, and Eden, 8. They walked with the Walking for Caring Hearts team, consisting of Schneck Medical Center employees.

Todd said the team members conducted fundraisers at the Seymour hospital to benefit Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society.

This was Todd’s first year at Relay for Life. She said several of her family members have had cancer.

“It’s amazing the support that the research and the funding and that sort of thing can get,” Todd said. “It’s also kind of horrific that this many people have been touched by cancer in our community.”

Todd’s mother made capes for her girls to wear to go along with the superheroes theme. Todd said it was important for her daughters to participate in Relay for Life for one reason.

“To help people,” she said. “That you can go beyond yourself and help other people.”

Following a luminaria ceremony to honor cancer survivors and those who have died from cancer, the night concluded with a new event, Glow Run 5K, where participants wore glowsticks or superhero attire.

After running 3.1 miles through area neighborhoods, they had an opportunity to come back to the track and walk laps with Relay for Life participants.

Jan Engel, a member of the event leadership team, said $50,189 has been raised so far for the American Cancer Society. But some fundraising events are ongoing, and organizers have until Aug. 31 to reach their goal of $62,000.

“We know that eliminating cancer isn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy,” Engel said to everyone attending Relay for Life.

“No matter why you take part in Relay, one thing is clear — every step you take, every dollar you raise, you help the American Cancer Society save lives,” she said. “Each person who shares a Relay experience can take pride in knowing that you are working to create a world where this disease will no longer threaten the lives of our loved ones or claim another life.”

At a glance

Donations for Relay for Life of Jackson County can be made two ways:

Online at main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY15LS?pg=entry&fr_id=68161

Calling Jan Engel at 812-528-0549

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.