The American Legion Riders will once again lead the way in the opening ceremony as they have for several years. This year, the ride will have special meaning for J.P. Postlethwaite, who has been the lead rider. This year he will be the featured speaker for the opening ceremony.
Postlethwaite’s doctors found a tumor between his eyes in October, 2012. Biopsies revealed the tumor was malignant, and the cancer had spread to lymph nodes below his jaw. Treatment prescribed was radiation and chemotherapy. Last week, he completed his treatment and doctors will now monitor his condition every few months to ensure the cancer does not return. That means this year, he will also be making the survivors lap at the Great Bend Relay for Life.
“I was in shock when they told me I had cancer,” he said. “It’s been a real eye opener.”
During the time Postlethwaite was undergoing treatment, his father became very ill and was admitted to the hospital. As his condition worsened, doctors told Postlethwaite he could not visit in person as his immune system was compromised by the chemotherapy he was taking. He would go in for a week of chemo, and then would spend the next two weeks recovering before the next round.
It was during one of these two week periods that it became clear that his father would not regain his health. Talking on the phone was not enough, so he risked infection and went in person to the hospital wearing a mask so he could talk eye to eye with his dad.
“We worked together every day practically for 35 years,” he said. “When I got there, I told him that I needed to talk with him, and he told me he needed to do the same.”
Postlethwaite said his father was fighting to hang on until he learned if his son would survive the cancer to be there for his mother. He is the only remaining child from the family living in the area. The next day, Feb. 25, his father passed away. American Legion Riders were at the funeral, taking up one half of the church to show support for him and his family.
Cancer patients rely heavily on their support teams. Postlethwaite credits his family and friends for being the driving force keeping him motivated to fight through to the end.
“My kids and my grandkids are what keeps me fighting,” he said. “And my wife has been wonderful. There is a lot of paperwork to keep track of, and she has set it up like a business, keeping everything up to date. Without her, the stress would have been unbearable.”
He also found support at work. Postlethwaite has worked for Doonan’s Peterbilt GMC since 2011. He was at work the day he received the phone call confirming his diagnosis.
That’s when he learned Terry McAtee, his boss, is also a cancer survivor. McAfee took him into his office to talk, Postlethwaite recalled. He offered words of encouragement and told him to take all the time he needed and to focus on just getting better. He assured him they would get through it together.
“I truly feel I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said. He is still weak, but plans to return to work slowly this week. He may only work for an hour or two for awhile, but his co-workers are behind him, he said.
This year, Relay for Life will include a caregiver’s ceremony honoring those who support cancer survivors through their battle, according to Sheri Elson, Relay for Life chairperson. The lap will follow the survivor’s lap. Postlethwaite anticipates having a very large team on hand to take that lap with him. Despite his weakened state, he looks forward to the short run of a ride and that first lap around the courthouse with his team.
“I feel like I have to do it for all of them,” he said. “I’m so grateful I had their support.”
Last weekend, he celebrated his 41st wedding anniversary. He is grateful he was able to leave the hospital last Wednesday so he could be home for the celebration his family planned for them. Surviving cancer will help him to appreciate every birthday and anniversary he celebrates from now on, he said.
In addition to the opening ceremony and the survivors and caregiver’s ceremonies, there will be a luminary ceremony which will include “hush angels”, who will quiet the crowd as they walk a lap around the track before the lighting begins, Elson said.
Entertainment will be provided by DJs Kehvan and Nathan of Zydhek Enterprises. Chris Calhoun will emcee the event.
There will also be karaoke, games, a Velcro wall and food vendors around the square. Waters True Value will provide a bounce house for kids to burn off energy and a live radio remote is planned from 5 to 7 p.m.
Last year, Great Bend’s Relay for Life raised over $126,000, Elson said.
“We are the leading per capita fundraiser for Relay in the state for our population and second in our region,” she said.
Walking begins at 6 p.m. Friday and continues all night until 6 a.m. Saturday morning. Elson said survivors can register from 3 to 6 p.m. and receive a shirt and survivor gift pack.