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Cancer Society Relay for Life Inspires Survivors

May 20, 2006 – Dressed in baggy jeans, sneakers and a baseball cap balanced lopsidedly on his head, Jovan Augustin looks like any ordinary teenager at first glance.
A closer look at his wrist, decorated with multiple "Live Strong" plastic bracelets first made famous by seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, indicates that he is more than an ordinary teenager.
For starters, 14-year-old Augustin and Armstrong have something common – they are both cancer survivors.
Doctors found a mass in the right side of Augustin's chest in late December 2005 after he complained of chest pain. In early January it was diagnosed as cancer and Augustin was flown to Miami Children's Hospital with assistance from the American Cancer Society.
On Saturday, the teenager and his mother, Priscilla Vigilant, were among the supporters of families and friends of cancer survivors and luminaries present at the fifth annual American Cancer Society's Relay for Life held at the Educational Complex track.
The 24-hour event, "Working Together to Save Lives," kicked off shortly after noon Saturday and is scheduled to end at noon Sunday.
Brief downpours Saturday afternoon did nothing to dampen the spirits of members of 31 teams, including representatives from the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Center on St. Thomas, that took part in the event.
"Those are showers of blessing and we're grateful for that," said Public Relations Officer Audrey Browne, when the first spattering of rain fell about 1 p.m.
Various businesses, institutions, cancer survivors and luminaries participated, including Pearl B. Larsen and Country Day schools, V.I. Waste Management, Frederiksted Post Office, Luis Hospital, the V.I. Department of Health, St. Croix Federation of Teachers and Gigi's Treasure Chest, which was sponsored by cancer survivor Yvonne Galiber along with family and friends.
Vigilant said that that her son, the fourth of five boys, ages 11 to 32, complained of chest pain in December 2005 and an X-ray and CAT scan later revealed a mass on the right side of his chest.
In January 2006, a test conducted in California brought bad news.
"It was cancer," she said. "I didn't want to tell him but he overheard me telling one of his older brothers and when he got on the phone to talk to his brother, he said 'you know I have cancer.'"
Augustin takes it all in stride, even though his once curly, thick black hair is thinning and his skin has turned dark in some areas.
"It's kind of hard sometimes," he said of the chemotherapy that he must undergo the occasional weakness it causes.
But he shrugs off any fear and with the wisdom of someone twice his age, saying he's taking things one day at a time.
"God helps me," he said of his fearless coping.
And Augustin has this message for others his age that may one day find they have cancer and may not cope as easily as he makes it seem. "They have to be strong," he said.
His mother said her Augustin's faith and ease in accepting the disease is remarkable.
"Sometimes I feel bad for him," said Vigilant, who just eight days ago returned to the Virgin Islands from Miami where she and her son had been since January.
She said the cost of living and the disruption to her life – she has two young kids to care for – forced her to ask for a transfer to the Cancer Center on St. Thomas.
She said she and Augustin are grateful for the help from the American Cancer Society and she hopes no one else is placed in her position.
"People have to help them," she said of donating to the American Cancer Society "for them to help others, because no one knows that they could be stricken with cancer."
As the relay wound by hour after hour Saturday, the various teams and their supports dug into baskets of cooked food, snacks, fruits, water and juices or just lounged under tents that were set up for those who would spend the night.
Big Band of St. Croix kept walkers – and runners – entertained. Of course, it was a time for bringing survivors together and that was how Galiber met Augustin and learned his story.
Galiber, who is well known for her community work, was there with husband, Dr. Dante Galiber, and her 9-year-old daughter, Monique, as well as several "girlfriends," one who came from as far away as Connecticut.
"My breast cancer journey started in February 2005 when I felt a lump in my right breast," Galiber wrote in a commemorative booklet that was distributed on Saturday. "Unfortunately, it was cancer."
Galiber said that she and her family traveled to Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York for breast cancer surgery and eventually had to take chemotherapy and radiation.
"The emotionally difficult part was 'going bald,' however, faith, friends and family made this bearable and I, a daughter, sister, wife and mother, made it a right of passage to live long and strong," she said.
Galiber's parents survived breast and prostrate cancer. Her father-in-law, Dr. Andre A. Galiber Sr., died of prostate cancer in 2000.
She said that her illness has been inspiring.
"I was very blessed in many ways for having insurance and I had the support of family and friends, which is very important," she said of not having many of the worries that others in her situation sometimes have.
For example, she said, some of the women she met were forced to go back to work soon after chemotherapy.
"I felt guilty," she recalled. "Some of the women even had to leave their jobs."
Galiber said that she was able to stay with her parents for six months while recuperating without the worry of having to go back to work. She was the development coordinator at AZ Academy, a position she resigned from after learning she had cancer and sought treatment.
It was while going through chemotherapy that Galiber realized her life's calling.
"I plan to open the Yvonne A. Galiber Foundation to reach out to underprivileged women," she said, adding that in her many years doing community service she'd always felt something amiss.
"I felt a void and me having breast cancer made me realize that was my purpose – helping underprivileged women," she said. "This is going to be my work."
Louis Jackson, ACS chairman, said the group hopes to raise $150,000 this year. Last year the agency raised $100,000. And, he said that in September the organization will join hundreds of chapters nationwide in Washington, D.C., to increase cancer awareness with its "Wall of Hope" banner. Each banner will have a minimum of 500 signatures, he said.
"The wall of hope banner gives testament to the spirit, courage and strength of millions of Americans touched by cancer," Jackson said, adding that at the end of Sunday's Relay for Life he and ACS members hoped to have accomplished one thing.
"We want to increase the awareness of cancer prevention, the awareness of availability of diagnostic care and the awareness of support for those who have been diagnosed or have lost someone to cancer."
To contribute, call 778-2882 or write to American Cancer Society, St. Croix Unit, P.O. Box 6987, Christiansted, VI 00823-6987.

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