PUNXSUTAWNEY – Some people groan about hitting the big 4-0, but Kevin Aul has scratched and clawed for 32 years of his life to hit it.
Aul – relaying with the Grace Gigglers of Grace United Methodist Church — was among those taking part in Punxsy's Relay for Life Saturday in Barclay Square.
The Relay for Life committee recognized Aul's 40th birthday with a park-wide sing-along of “Happy Birthday” and saluted him for his battle against cancer – which he has been waging for most of his life.
After his first diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma in 1982 – when he was eight years old, Aul underwent chemotherapy and radiation, but was diagnosed with the same cancer again in 1984. He again underwent treatment, but was not out of the woods yet.
In 2007, Aul was diagnosed with glioblastomas multiforme, which manifested itself when Aul suffered headaches that would not going away.
The glioblastomas multiforme was diagnosed as a cancer on his brain that was actually caused by the chemotherapy he had undergone years earlier.
“I was surprised, and my mother had called down to my surgeons I was seeing when I was younger, and (one surgeon) said he was not surprised,” Aul said. “They were always watching me, waiting for something, but they never said it was part of chemo they gave me when I was younger.”
Aul underwent brain surgery for the glioblastomas multiforme, but was later diagnosed with a form of skin cancer. A patch that he thought was merely a mole was removed, but the skin cancer still has a possibility of returning.
He was a young child when he was first diagnosed with cancer, but Aul said while he was a child in a difficult situation, he didn't feel different from other kids.
“I felt like I was in the hospital a long time, a month, maybe a few months at the most,” he said. “My mother felt like it was forever.
Everybody was giving me special attention, and I knew my brothers were having trouble. My grandmother was taking care of them.
“I knew what was going on,” Aul said. “I really knew I had cancer, but it was still confusing.”
Because of how cancer has affected his life, Aul has been told that he would never work again. A self-employed contractor, his work life is limited due to seizures. But medication has kept his seizures in check, and he undergoes MRIs every three months.
“I pretty much proved them wrong” about cancer slowing him down, he said.
“I'm feeling pretty good,” Aul said. “I'm pretty much living a normal life now, except I have check-ups. On my last MRI a couple weeks ago, they said it still looks good.”
Aul, who said he is grateful to his friends, family and church for their support over the years, hasn't let cancer keep him down in other aspects of his life, either. After dating for about five years, he popped the question to his wife, Nicole. They have been married for about a year and a half and reside in Punxsy.
Aul's family and in-laws surprised him with an early-40th birthday party last weekend in Big Run – “I looked up, and the whole family was there,” he said – but knew that he would be recognized Saturday at the Relay for Life. “I knew something was going to happen,” he said.
Relay meets $78,000 goal
PUNXSUTAWNEY – Not too shabby for two first-year Relay for Life co-chairpersons, as well as their hard-working teams.
The Punxsy Relay for Life reached its $78,000 goal by 5 p.m. Saturday evening, eventually totaling about $80,000 by the end of the day.
Funds by teams and donors are due by the end of August, so that total is sure to increase.
“It is just amazing to me what they did yesterday,” said Robyn Shaffer, who co-chaired this year's relay with Jennifer Pavlak. “What they did is amazing.”
In humid mid-July temperatures, 26 teams – including 58 cancer survivors who were integral to the event – walked, sweated and raised funds for the American Cancer Society, thankfully without the skies opening up, such as the case with last year's event.
“I am really pleased that everything turned out well,” Pavlak said. “There was no rain, and it was fabulous. We actually got to watch the whole luminaria ceremony without a drop of rain.”
Shaffer and Pavlak agreed to chair this year's relay under one condition.
“I said I would only do that if Jenny did it,” Shaffer said. “Jen has done stuff for Relay, but she did it behind the scenes. I had only ever been on a team.”
“Oh yes, we work well together,” Pavlak added. “We were planning this event for next year. We were working out some kinks and thinking about different things.”
The theme of the 2011 Punxsy Relay for Life was “Disco: Stayin' Alive,” complete with the signature Bee Gees song and other disco hits from the era, as well and entertainment from DJ Digital Thunder, Bruce Walker and Al Lemmon with assistance from WPXZ's Josh Widdowson.
Pavlak said the idea of a theme was something that inspired them to go above and beyond the call of duty with their tents, outerwear and activities.
“A couple years ago, we had a theme – 'Colors for Cancer,'” she said. “People were new to the theme idea, so that was just like a starter. This year, we really pushed them to decorate and embrace the theme.”