Penn State

Taking a step toward a cure at Relay for Life of Penn State

Zena Beckett, 3, runs to hug her mom, Tracy, after Tracy participated in the survivors opening lap for the Penn State Relay for Life on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at the Penn State track.
Zena Beckett, 3, runs to hug her mom, Tracy, after Tracy participated in the survivors opening lap for the Penn State Relay for Life on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at the Penn State track. CDT photo

UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s never too late for a victory lap.

Cindy Barron, of Somerset, is walking the Penn State Outdoor Track alongside her daughter Elizabeth, a senior at the university. It’s a beautiful spring day — the sun is shining, the weather is warm and it’s been more than 21 years since Barron was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

This day is about celebrating that victory with other veterans of an identical fight, the cancer survivors who have shared the same journey and are now sharing the same track. They walk ahead of and behind Barron, a cohesive unit striding purposefully forward.

Relay for Life of Penn State kicked off 24 hours of nonstop walking on Saturday afternoon to honor cancer survivors and raise funding for a cure. Sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the event hosted about 1,500 participants and featured teams from more than 100 student organizations from Penn State.

“The students here are absolutely incredible. They’re really some of the most passionate, driven people,” Jen Leydig, staff partner at the American Cancer Society said.

A representative from each team is encouraged to be on the track at all times for the duration of the relay, which was moved from its usual location at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park due to scheduling reasons.

Kevin Christie, student liaison to the American Cancer Society, said that the new venue was working out well.

“Good turnout, good weather, good environment, so I’m excited for the weekend,” Christie said.

According to Christie, if this weekend’s relay can raise at least $102,235, the Penn State chapter will have officially generated $1 million for ACS during the past 11 years.

Barron is among the survivors grateful for the sense of community and support that Relay for Life provides. Barron was pregnant with her fourth child when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer a mere two weeks from her due date.

The discovery came as a shock — she had only scheduled the check-up because her husband, an avid Penn State football fan, wanted to know if Barron could attend the team’s season opener at such an advanced stage in her pregnancy.

Barron safely delivered a healthy baby before undergoing a hysterectomy and radiation treatments. Family and friends helped the ailing mother care for her young children and new infant.

“People are amazing. When things are tough they really pull together for you,” Barron said.

Today, Barron is glad to be able to lend that same spirit of support to the other survivors at the relay — including her own daughter.

Elizabeth Barron was a freshman at Penn State when she called home about a suspicious-looking mole on her shoulder. She diagnosed with a melanoma in December 2011 and is returning to Relay for Life as a three-year survivor.

“It’s really inspiring. Everyone has a story and it’s all different how we were affected by cancer,” Barron said.

It was during her first walk that Barron met Penn State senior Kaitlyn Sukovich, who has been participating in Relay for Life events since she was 6 years old.

Sukovich was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 2, just 20 days after her mother gave birth to her little brother. She still remembers her third birthday party, where adults — not children — were invited to ensure that Sukovich was protected from whatever ailments were sweeping the local preschools and day cares.

Today, she is surrounded by peers, friends she has recruited to her relay team, a tradition she plans on maintaining for as long as she possibly can.

“I see myself doing it until they stop asking me back,” Sukovich said.