Cancer patients look for life’s positive side

GLOVERSVILLE – When former City Fire Chief Doug Edwards was diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in March 2010, he found a way to bring the positives to light.

“I have no choice with this thing, so I look at every day as a great day,” Edwards said. “Some days are hard, but I still think every day is great. When my doctors said I have a one in a thousand chance to make it past five years, I took that as I still have a chance because I don’t have any other option.”

Edwards will be among the many people participating in the 16th Annual Relay for Life on the grounds of Park Terrace Elementary School on Friday. The relay, which will run from 4 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday, raises money for the American Cancer Society. Opening ceremonies will begin at 6 p.m. Friday.

Edwards said his health problem began with seizures.

“We had no idea why I had two seizures in two months’ time,” Edwards said. “Doctors could see a mass in my head but couldn’t identify it at first.”

Once doctors were aware it was a tumor, they advised him to have a portion of the tumor removed.

He had it removed, and as a result, Edwards said, he has lost some memories and his ability to do math, which was something he once enjoyed.

The surgery alone didn’t solve the problem. Edwards said he was receiving chemotherapy until he found out Friday he now has more tumors, so he is turning to an experimental drug to see if that will help.

Doctors told him if they were to operate again, he could lose his eyesight and ability to speak, which made medication the better alternative for Edwards.

Edwards remains positive.

“No matter what I do, I am always looking forward and pushing forward,” Edwards said. “I don’t go do things just to occupy myself. I go out and do things I love and enjoy doing.”

When Edwards started meeting with a counselor at a local hospice, he was advised to make a bucket list of things he would like to do. On that list is caring for horses.

After a little research, he found a farm in Fort Plain called FritzAnn Farms, which has percherons. He volunteered his time to care for the horses.

One horse, a 1-year-old percheron, didn’t listen and didn’t like to be touched when Edwards first started. Now, the horse has a trusting relationship with Edwards.

“It has been one of the best things I have ever done,” Edwards said.

Edwards said the Relay for Life, which he has been participating in for three years, is one place where the battle against cancer can gain ground.

“Every person and little donation is one step in the right direction,” Edwards said.

Gloversville 6th Ward Supervisor Richard Ottalagano, 70, has been battling lung cancer since 2008. He had a third of his lung removed and received chemotherapy. He has been participating in the relay for five years.

He said the cancer returned in January. The second round of treatment is going much better than the first, something he attributes to the advances in cancer treatment in the last five years.

“The treatment this time around is less bothersome than it was in 2008,” Ottalagano said. “I don’t have to take medicine for nausea or anything like that anymore.”

He said money raised at the relay makes treatments and everyday life easier for those battling cancer.

Gloversville Police Chief Donald VanDeusen and his wife, Mary Katherine, are helping raise money for the relay with their team, MK’s Warriors.

Mary Katherine was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and is finishing radiation. Her prognosis is looking positive, she said.

The VanDeusens said the American Cancer Society has been helpful by providing her with services such as free wigs and scarfs. They’ve also seen the society provide patients with support classes and rides to and from appointments.

“It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be because with the radiation and chemo, I never got sick or lost weight, but with my family, it has been harder,” Mary Katherine said.

“She is dealing with it in an amazing way with how strong she is through it, but we worry about her every day,” the chief added. “She doesn’t worry as much as we do. I don’t know how she does it.”

The couple praised the Cancer Society.

“They provide services to a lot of people that may be in less-fortunate situations than we are, and that is the reason we would like to give something back to them,” the chief said.

The Relay for Life will begin with the opening ceremony. Food, games and a performance by the Johnstown Winter Guard will be among the activities. A total of 64 teams and 795 participants already have raised $73,712.

“I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been associated with cancer in some way,” event chairwoman Sandy Sacerio said. “Whether it is a friend, family or even co-workers, cancer has touched us all.”

She expects about 2,500 to 3,000 people to attend the event.

People who want to spend the night and do not have a parking pass can call 844-1026. Others can park at Kingdom Hall on Kingsboro Avenue and ride a shuttle to the school. After midnight, attendees have to be a registered participant to stay at the school grounds.