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Kane Relay For Life celebrates strength and spirit
By Sammi King | Daily Herald Columnist

Denise Woodard, left, and Irene Burgen of St. Charles come together during the survivor's lap of last year's Relay For Life of Kane County at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva.


Kevin Sherman | Staff Photographer, 2009

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Published: 6/23/2010 12:00 AM

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American Cancer Society Relay For Life events

Kane County

When: 6 p.m. Friday, June 25 to 6 a.m. Saturday, June 26

Where: Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium, 34W002 Cherry Lane, Geneva


North McHenry County

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, June 26 to 6 a.m. Sunday, June 27

Where: Albert A. Adams Township Park, 3703 N. Richmond Road, Johnsburg


Friends use words like kind, generous, humble and happy to describe Marian Harmon. Peel away the layers of Marian Harmon's gentle soul and you'll fins a spirit so strong that nothing can destroy it. Not even cancer.

Marian Harmon has been involved in the Relay For Life since its beginning in our area. She has captained a team that has raised well over $75,000.

"I was the church secretary at Fox Valley Presbyterian for 21 years," said Harmon. "Leo Drummer came in one day and said, 'Willie thinks you would be a great captain for the Relay For Life.'"

At the time Wilma "Willie" Drummer was the regional director for the American Cancer Society and was trying to put together teams for a Relay For Life Fundraiser.

Marian Harmon didn't think twice about it. She signed on to put a team together from the church.

It was 1994; the relay that year would be held in the fall at St. Charles East High School. The walkers would walk the track from 8 a.m. in the morning until 8 p.m. Harmon had the entire summer to get her team motivated to raise funds.

On July 27 of that year, Harmon received some disconcerting news.

"I remember the date because it was my daughter's birthday," she said. "I had a routine appointment with my dermatologist, and I found that there was a mole on my leg that needed to be removed."

The mole was a malignant stage 2 melanoma."

"It was removed and I felt like it was over," she added. "In fact, I didn't even feel like I should walk in the survivor's lap at the relay, even though my team said I should."

In 1997, there was no relay and Marian Harmon was upset by that.

"I thought that they might not be calling me because I had cancer and they thought I wouldn't be able to handle it," she said. "Then I learned that they were moving the relay to the Elfstrom Stadium and that it would be a summer event."

In 2003, Marian Harmon's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the same year, Harmon learned that she had breast cancer as well. After a lumpectomy, she felt reassured since the cancer was localized. She did everything she could to get well, so that she could walk in the relay. She also had a second reason to get well.

"I was always a regular blood donor because I have A-positive blood," said Harmon, "and I wasn't allowed to give blood after the breast cancer diagnosis. I really wanted to be able to give blood again.

"That five year mark, 2008, became very important to me."

As if it was an afterthought, Marian Harmon mentioned that she had a brain surgery in 2004 to remove a tumor the size of a grapefruit.

"It was benign," she said. "The relay was something that I was focusing on. I remember thinking I need to be alive to walk the relay."

Marian Harmon walked and the team continued to raise money. They received T-shirts for each relay and for special years when they received gold and platinum status.

"You get an additional T-shirt if you reach those levels," she said. "I saved all the shirts. I' m a Relay For Life fashion maven."

Sadly, Harmon had disappointing news in 2007.

"I knew it wasn't good news because they couldn't tell me over the phone," she said. "I learned the cancer was back. I asked them what the odds were that the cancer would invade the other breast. They told me that the odds were 5 to 7 percent. That seemed too high."

Harmon elected to have a double mastectomy.

Even though her mother lost her fight with breast cancer and her brother lost a battle with lung cancer, Marian Harmon continues to fight on, knowing she is not alone.

"I have my team, and even my neighbor of 31 years has gotten involved in our team. She's like a sister to me, but she isn't Presbyterian, she's Lutheran," says Harmon with a nondenominational laugh.

Marion Harmon also has her faith to see her through.

"Throughout this whole journey, I never felt that God wasn't there for me," she said. "I knew he would get me through - to be able to walk in the relay."

Even a hip replacement didn't get her down. She continued to walk and stepped up the effort to raise money.

"If walking and raising money to fight cancer will get rid of this disease, I will continue to do it," she said.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote "What doesn't kill us only makes us stronger". Marian Harmon is an example of an indomitable spirit that inspires her team, her church and her community. She will continue to walk until her last step in hopes that others will be to walk through life cancer free.

Kane County's Relay For Life event begins at 6 p.m. Friday, June 25 and ends at 6 a.m. Saturday, June 26 at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva. For details, visit