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Relay for Life: On track for a cure

Ilima Brainard wipes a tear while she and her daughter, Kimberly, listen to a speaker during the Federal Way Relay for Life event on Saturday. Kimberly was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a brain tumor common in children, when she was 4 years old. Her disease has been in remission five years. - Margo Horner/The Mirror
Ilima Brainard wipes a tear while she and her daughter, Kimberly, listen to a speaker during the Federal Way Relay for Life event on Saturday. Kimberly was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a brain tumor common in children, when she was 4 years old. Her disease has been in remission five years.
— image credit: Margo Horner/The Mirror

Bill Dehnert, 53, was living the good life back in November of last year.

He had a loving wife and two grown daughters. He had recently lost 40 pounds and was in the best shape of his life. He had a job he loved, teaching French at Thomas Jefferson High School, and he had just purchased a season ski pass.

Yes, life was good. But then something went terribly wrong.

Dehnert thought it was a strained muscle in his abdomen. He ignored it at first. But then he began getting ill. He called in sick to work for the first time in years. Finally, he went to the doctor.

Dehnert and his wife, Gail, knew something was wrong when the doctor called after his appointment and told him to come in to the office.

“And bring your wife with you,” Gail recalled the doctor saying.

Dehnert was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died in February, just three months after he was diagnosed.

Dehnert’s family and friends, forming a team called Wild Bill’s Buckaroos, were one of many teams who honored loved ones affected by cancer at the Relay for Life event this weekend at Saghalie Middle School. They aimed to raise awareness and money for cancer research.

The event in Federal Way raised more than $65,000. The American Cancer Society hosted 29 events this year in King and Snohomish counties, said Michael Umpstead, American Cancer Society spokesman.

Six events in the Puget Sound area last weekend raised a total of more than $500,000. The money will go toward research, education, patient services and advocacy efforts.

Umpstead said he didn’t know when researchers will discover a cure for cancer — but they continue to make huge strides discovering preventions and treatments.

“Every day those researchers find more stuff, that’s a step closer,” he said.

Until a cure is discovered, families depend on common treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and, in some cases, prayer.

Family and friends helped Dehnert and his family during his last few months.

“People came out of the woodwork to find us and help us,” Gail said.

Dozens of teachers who had worked with Bill at Thomas Jefferson High School and Kilo Middle School visited him in the hospital. More than 500 people attended his funeral.

David Steele, a teacher at Kilo, recalled Dehnert teaching his students Christmas carols in foreign languages and leading them caroling throughout the school during the holiday season. Other teachers have carried on the tradition since, but it’s never been quite the same.

“He always needed to be around people doing happy things,” Gail said. “He was a little crazy. He was a fun loving guy and he wanted to make sure everybody else was having fun too.”

Gail often gets tearful when she talks about her husband.

“I think because it was so sudden for us. It happened before we even knew what was happening to us,” she said. “Nobody’s immune to it.”

Before his diagnosis, Dehnert and his wife participated in Relay for Life events each year for 12 years. Dehnert participated to honor several uncles who died of cancer and because he enjoyed the camaraderie.

One-third of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, according to the American Cancer Society’s Web site. Sixty-four percent of cancer patients survive.

Contact Margo Hoffman: mhoffman@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Relay for Life

Sponsored by the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life began with the infamous “survivor lap.” Survivors of cancer walked, rode in wheelchairs or cheered one another on at Saghalie Middle School.

More than 40 teams participated in the 20-hour walk, which began May 17 and ended at noon May 18. Each team had at least one representative on the track at all times.

To learn more about Relay for Life, call the American Cancer Society at (800) ACS-2345 or visit www.relayforlife.org.

Survivors and families honor loved ones who battled cancer

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