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May 8, 2013

West Bloomfield woman prepares for Relay to keep mom’s memory alive

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Tracy Naftaly, second from left, is all smiles with her family during a past Relay for Life event in West Bloomfield.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Esther Olson was a listening ear to many.

As a local nail stylist for 35 years, the West Bloomfield resident knew when her clients’ babies were born. She knew when those babies grew up and had babies, and even when someone just needed to boast about their new beau over a fresh set of French tips.

“She was the greatest manicurist in town. Everybody went to her,” West Bloomfield resident Michelle Silber, 47, said about her mother. “She was everybody’s therapist and my best friend.”

Olson died at age 69 of uterine cancer, also called endometrial cancer, in December 2011. Her daughter didn’t hesitate to describe her mother in herculean terms.

“She was always my hero,” Silber said. “She was very bubbly, and you never saw her without a smile.

“My mom was always a survivor,” she said. “The way my mom’s spirit and personality (was), you would never know she was sick. She looked great. She still argued with me the same. She lived life.”

Silber, who is the West Bloomfield Relay for Life Event chair, said that, with the help of the 14th annual June event, the organization could be that much closer to finding a cure for cancer.

“I want to help fight this horrible disease so the world can celebrate lots of birthdays,” she said.

The Relay for Life of West Bloomfield will be June 8-9 at West Bloomfield High School, 4925 Orchard Lake Road.

It kicks off at 10 a.m. June 8, and Silber said she hopes the Carnival for a Cure themed-event, featuring carnival games and food, will draw many people.

“Every day, (we are) planning to make this year’s Relay for Life the best it can be,” she said. “We are working to get more businesses involved, teams created and survivors involved, because it is all about our survivors. We want to celebrate them.”

Thirty-eight teams are registered for the event, which draws about 2,000 people. Team Esther is a team Silber formed nearly two years ago in honor of her mother.

“Team Esther stands for inspiration,” Silber said. “(My mother) is my inspiration to keep doing what I am doing. Everybody has a tie to cancer. Everybody has been touched by cancer in some way.”

Silber’s husband survived two bouts of testicular cancer, and her mother was in an uphill battle against cancer before she was diagnosed with uterine cancer — at 55 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She also had thyroid cancer.

Even though the negative cancer connotation cannot be completely erased, Silber said cancer is also a motivator in her family.

“All my daughters and I want to do good for the world,” Silber said. “They want to make it a better place. They want it to be cancer-free so their own kids don’t have to see a world with cancer.”

Silber’s daughter Lindsay is already on her way. She helped create a college-based Relay for Life team, College Kids for a Cure, after being inspired by the West Bloomfield event.

“My cousin and co-captain and I have loved ones who have been touched by cancer,” the 23-year-old Commerce Township resident and co-captain told C & G recently. “(My dad and grandmother) are both the strongest people I know and (are) my true inspirations for creating this team with my cousin.”

The team was created in 2009, and Lindsay said her mother and grandmother were supporters in her endeavor.

“Creating the team was a way I could show her how much I honored her fight and strength,” Lindsay said. “Cancer has no age restrictions, and neither do the people who are here and able to fight.”

West Bloomfield residents and mother and daughter duo Tracy Naftaly, 48, and Sheila Eisenberg, 73, have been fighting nonstop since their involvement in Relay for Life for a little more than a decade.

The pair, along with countless others, have walked laps and encouraged each other during the many relays under their belt.

“Since cancer never sleeps, we will not stop until there is a cancer cure,” Naftaly told C & G recently.

Every year at the relay, Eisenberg adds a new string of colored beads to her repertoire of beaded necklaces — a representation of the number of years of surviving cancer.

“My mom is a 28-year cancer survivor, and nothing makes me happier than seeing her walk the survivor lap with 28 beaded necklaces around her neck.”

Eisenberg said she wears the beads atop her Relay for Life shirt proudly and for a cause.

“(I) relay for the future of (my) grandkids and so that others don’t have to experience the hurt of losing a loved one to cancer,” Eisenberg said. “It gives hope to those who have been diagnosed. It can enrich and save lives with the effort of those who donate and relay together.”

Naftaly, who lost her dad to cancer nearly two years ago, said working toward the goal of finding a cure for cancer has changed her relationship with her mother.

“It has become part of who we are,” Naftaly said. “Everyone there understands the deep sadness we feel and are surrounded and comforted by other families and their similar stories. It’s OK to cry without people wondering why; and even though you may be sad, it’s OK to laugh and share precious memories, too. Working toward a goal draws us closer together.”

For more information, visit www.relayforlife.org, keyword: West Bloomfield, or email Michelle Silber at kinderfun65@aol.com or Sarah Yerke at sarah.yerke@cancer.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.