October 18, 2021

A Relay makes a difference

Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

Bradyn “Beeda” Schmidt, 16, foreground, is a cancer survivor. From back left are Christine Bowers of Cortland and her ex-sister-in-law, Brandy Bowers, of Cortland, Beeda’s mom.

Bradyn “Beeda” Schmidt was just a toddler when he had leukemia.

“I remember some stuff,” said the 16-year-old Cortland High student who’s been cancer free 10 years. “I remember I was in a bed, like, all the time. My favorite movie was ‘Elmo in Grouchland.’”

And he’d only eat grilled cheese, ramen noodles and Slim Jims, foods he craved while on chemotherapy.

“He was so evil to us if he didn’t get those foods,” said his mom, Brandy Bowers of Cortland.

Schmidt, Bowers and her ex-sister-in-law, Christine Bowers of Cortland, will attend this year’s Relay for Life of Cortland County — and take part in the special cancer survivor celebration on the Homer Village Green.

Set for 4 p.m. June 1 at the Main Street green in Homer, it will feature a caregivers’ lap, a survivor celebration at 5 p.m., a 7 p.m. luminaria ceremony honoring survivors and deceased, and a 10 p.m. closing ceremony. Gates open at 3 p.m.

“Relay for Life is a celebration of survivorship, a celebration of medical advances, research and a memorials to those we lost,” said Nancy McLaughlin of Homer, leader of the event with William Murphy of Scott.

Seventeen teams have registered with a $50,000 goal to raise for the American Cancer Society for cancer research, advocacy and patient services.

The relay, which used to be overnight, has been shortened. People are too busy to commit to overnight, McLaughlin said.

Last year’s event drew almost 500 and she hopes for more this year.

“My grandmother had cancer in the ‘70s,” she said. “What’s happening today: People are surviving more. There are more treatments. Twenty percent more people are surviving cancer than 30 years ago. That’s huge.”

McLaughlin has been a relay participant for 13 years. Now she finds herself a six-month survivor of sarcoma cancer.

“I have not really wrapped my head around it, I guess,” she said. “I am one of those survivors.”

In Cortland County, 286 people a year get cancer, according to the New York State Cancer Registry. And 95 people die of cancer a year, according to statistics from 2011 to 2015.

Christine Bowers is one of those survivors. She is the captain of her “Party Lite and Friends” team of six with a goal of $5,000. It is her second relay.

“I have lost especially important family members to cancer, including my mom. Relay for Life gives me a chance to honor my mom, raise funds for cancer research and getting people to treatment,” Bowers said. “It gives me the chance to know in this little corner of the world, I am able to make a difference in someone’s life.”

She watched Schmidt get diagnosed with leukemia in April 2006, at the age of 3. One month after he received his first round of treatment, he had a stroke. Doctors discovered a defective heart valve.

The boy was treated at Upstate University Hospital’s pediatric/hematology floor for his leukemia, getting chemotherapy for three years. Allergies to the medicine complicated his treatment. It was a long road. But he went into remission in 2009.

Christine Bowers has been producing videos of Beeda detailing his story to promote the relay on social media. He will be at Paint the Town Purple May 4 at Suggett Park in Cortland, an event to raise awareness about the Relay for Life.

Brandy Bowers remembers the American Cancer Society helping her with gas cards and transportation to get her son to Syracuse. She remembers a kind stranger helping her family at holiday time with toys and clothing, because of a referral from the society.

“They had anonymous people send money at the beginning of school to help with school supplies,” said Brandy Bowers, a former certified nursing assistant who now is in customer service representative at Darwin on Clinton, a gourmet eatery in Syracuse. “I couldn’t work. I was out of work for quite a while.”

Her son still struggles with epileptic seizures, a leftover from the stroke he suffered. He faces a heart valve replacement in a year or two, said his mom.

“This is going to be fun,” Schmidt said.

But he is doing well, with healthy blood counts.

“When he was diagnosed, it was difficult,” Brandy Bowers said. “I think I became a better mom. I worry constantly. It’s always in the back of my head: ‘What if.’ We don’t like to talk about those things and the chances of relapse.”

Christine Bowers is a cervical cancer survivor. “I had most of my cervix removed,” she said.

She doesn’t think that’s significant.

“I remember going to see Brandy and Bradyn in the hospital on that children’s cancer floor. You walk in and it’s so daunting. It’s so sad,” she said. “They have pictures on the wall of kids they have lost to cancer. And you look around and see all these beautiful kids. They have bald heads. They are tired. You look at the parents. You can tell how heart breaking the situation is. I drove home crying.”

“At the same time, my mom was losing her battle to cancer,” she added. “My little measly cancer is nothing compared to what other people have had.”