Tattoo serves as reminder of those she’s lost

The moon, the star and the three triangles peaking out as the sun, symbolize: cancer never sleeps.

“I ‘Relay’ because I have lost three family members to cancer. My one grandpa passed away from lung cancer; the other grandpa passed away from brain cancer and I lost a grandmother to breast cancer. I also have friends and co-workers who were diagnosed with this horrible disease and went through treatment and were lucky enough to beat it. I also have friends who did not beat it. I miss them dearly and hope one day that we can find a cure, so that everyone can celebrate more birthdays and no one has to hear the words, ‘You have cancer’ ever again,” Renee Gilbert is heartfelt about her plight.

She is one of the most well known faces in the community’s banking industry. She holds the title of AVP and Branch Manager for TIB on Whitehead Street and has a passion for one very specific philanthropy near and dear to her, Relay for Life. She’s now branded with the universal symbol for finding a cure on the inside of her right forearm.

“I got it at Paradise Tattoo on Duval. It took 10 minutes and didn’t really hurt. I thought it would. To me the three triangles symbolizing the sun also symbolize each relative I’ve lost to cancer. Two for each of my grandfathers and one for my grandmother.”

The American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life is a life-changing event that gives communities across the globe a chance to celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost and fight back against the disease. At Relay, teams of walkers camp out at a local high school, park or fairground and take turns circling either a track or path. Each team is asked to have a representative on the track at all times during the event. Because cancer never sleeps, Relays are overnight marathons that last 24 hours.

According to Florida Keys American Cancer Society Executing Director, Carrie Helliesen, volunteers in the Keys have helped make the Florida Division a leader in serving newly diagnosed patients and have increased the quality of life for cancer patients in our area.

“The volunteers have their personal reasons why they Relay,” Helliesen continued. “Many are survivors and caregivers, and many are parents who don’t want to have to hear that their child has cancer. They know that every little bit they do is making a difference, and they are right.”

Gilbert has not only permanently marked herself with the symbol but also defined her commitment to Relay for a marked 16 years. She started while representing TIB in the Upper Keys and was very active as a team captain. In addition, she’s volunteered with children’s activities, accounting registration and now serves on the executive board. She’s working alongside Janie Rodriguez who tells The Key West Weekly she got involved simply because “someone asked.”

“I started as just a volunteer, but the more I got into seeing the ‘big picture’ of cancer, the more I wanted to help,” Rodriguez elaborated. “I’ve been unit chair, Gala chair, Relay chair and Road to Recovery coordinator…served several years of the ACS division board and represented the Florida Keys on Advocacy Day in Tallahassee.”

She’s currently on the Federal Advocacy team, and this coming Saturday, the planning of these three leading ladies and the team is going to culminate with “Rockin’ for a Cure” at Bayview Park. This year’s theme is “Under the Big Top.”

“This is very exciting,” Gilbert said. “Each team will be selling different foods, and there will be tons of activities. We have great live entertainment lined up to play throughout the day and into the night. Cancer survivors kick off the event with the opening lap and shortly after sunset, we have the touching luminaria ceremony. This is a ceremony that honors cancer survivors and remembers those who lost the battle. The luminary bags have candles inside each bag, and they are lit. We outline the track, and they remain lit throughout the night until they go out on their own. Everyone has been touched by cancer in some shape, way or form. We are inviting the public to come out and support the Relay For Life event and help everyone celebrate more birthdays.”

Luminaries are being sold now and you may purchase them at the event on Saturday. Rockin’ for a Cure will be at Bayview Park on Saturday, May 14, starting at noon through Sunday at 9 am. There are over 40 teams this year, and last year the Lower Keys and Key West Relay event raised over $200,000.


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