Parish Team Offers Unity, Hope in Relay for Life


By Tony DeGol

Like so many others, Linda Schellhammer is a survivor!

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.

Thanks to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, she beat it.

Wally Zapotoczny has also been touch by cancer through loved ones in his life.

His parents passed after battles with the disease, and his aunt is fighting it currently.

Both parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Altoona, Zapotoczny and Schellhammer were proud to participate in the parish’s team at the recent American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.  

Relay is a community-based fundraising event for the ACS.  The 24-hour event also serves as an inspirational celebration life for cancer survivors, and a touching remembrance for those whose life the disease claimed.

Our Lady of Lourdes has sponsored a team for the past several years, and recently, young adults from the parish have stepped up to lead the effort.

“I remember getting very involved because our maintenance guy was diagnosed with cancer, and I wanted to help him, and I remember it was important to a lot of our parishioners,” said Allison Gressler, one of the chairs of the OLOL team.  “And Charlotte, our church secretary, was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, so that really affected me, so I wanted to be there for her.”

Held at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona, Relay invites supporters to walk around the track over a 24-hour period. Many Lourdes parishioners, indeed, laced up their sneakers, but also helped in other ways.

“We have gotten a lot of donations – everyone was so kind and wanted to donate everything,” remarked Kayley Burke, another OLOL team chair.

“The generosity was above and beyond – whether it was a monetary donation, helping us with the tent, bringing us food, giving us money for pizza,” added Gressler.

“It really is very comforting and it’s humbling to see all the people who get involved in this event,” said Schellhammer of the Relay experience. “It’s a very emotional, very personal experience, but it gives you a sense of gratitude and closure. You just thank God every day for what you have, and you’re thankful for all the little things.”

The Our Lady of Lourdes team raised about $1,300 for the American Cancer Society.

For Zapotoczny, who participated in memory of his parents and in honor of those struggling with the disease, there is a greater message. 

“I think it is the unity of Christ here,” he commented. “We’re a Body of Christ here all together, and I think having the presence of the Catholic faith here is really incredible. It lets people know that the Catholic faith is about hope. Jesus Christ is about hope.”