Despite two bouts with cancer, Ralph Dowling-Fitzpatrick feels blessed.

Despite two bouts with cancer, Ralph Dowling-Fitzpatrick feels blessed.

"I'm a success story," he said. "I kind of feel like a minor walking miracle."

Dowling-Fitzpatrick, father of DeSales High School senior Josh Fitzpatrick, was diagnosed with bladder cancer six years ago. After undergoing chemotherapy and radical surgery, he thought he had the cancer beat. It returned three years ago, infecting a kidney. Dowling-Fitzpatrick lost one kidney and under-went chemotherapy a second time to beat

the disease.

This year, Dowling-Fitzpatrick is taking an active role in the Relay For Life at St. Frances DeSales High School May 3-4. For him, the "minor miracle" of beating cancer has instilled a need to reach out to other cancer survivors.

"I started realizing what it's like to be a survivor. Everyone's got a story, and everybody's going through something with it," he said. "When you think you've got it bad, you meet someone who's got it worse."

Dowling-Fitzpatrick is heading the Relay's Luminaria ceremony, which involves lighting candles around the stadium in honor of those who have battled cancer.

By getting involved in the fundraiser and sharing his story, Dowling-Fitzpatrick said he believes he'll be able to help other cancer survivors.

"Cancer doesn't just damage you physically -- it damages your family, you financially, you mentally," he said. "The way it affects your life overall is just terrible."

Dowling-Fitzpatrick, 61, said he was devastated when he was diagnosed.

"I had been fairly healthy my whole life, so that diagnosis really shook me up," he said. "It really slapped me. It was like getting punched in the face."

Dowling-Fitzpatrick credits the power of prayer with helping him to survive.

"I prayed a lot, and I had a lot of people praying for me," he said. "I just had that determination and faith that I was going to come through this."

Dowling-Fitzpatrick said he also was driven to beat cancer for his children. At the time he was diagnosed, his youngest son was just 2. When his doctor asked him about his goals, he said he wanted to see his children grow up.

"The mortality rate with bladder cancer is not great," Dowling-Fitzpatrick said. "He asked me what I wanted, and I said I wanted 20 more years."

He said having that goal also kept him going and gave him a willingness to do whatever his doctor told him it would take to see his children grow.

"If you don't have a goal, you'll fall apart. You have to have a goal, and you have to have something you're working toward," he said. "This disease is no cakewalk."

Dowling-Fitzpatrick's family also is getting behind him in supporting this year's Relay For Life.

Josh is leading a team of walkers, while 14-year-old Becca will set up a booth to sell items to raise money. Eight-year-old Zach, and wife, Carla, also will volunteer during the event.

"We're going to do all we can to get involved and raise awareness," Dowling-Fitzpatrick said.

In addition to organizing the Luminaria ceremony, Dowling-Fitzpatrick also will walk the track during the relay.

"I couldn't walk the track last year. I couldn't go all night. I'm going to try this year. I'm going to go as long as I can," he said. "I'm going to be there doing all that I can for as long as I can."

Dowling-Fitzpatrick said he loves the Relay For Life event at DeSales because it gives the students a chance to get involved and do a positive thing.

"They'll be walking the track. They'll be raising money. They've been making posters," Dowling-Fitzpatrick said. "It gives them an awareness."

By participating in the relay, Dowling-Fitzpatrick said he has a message he'd like to send to other cancer survivors: Focus on the good.

He said it's the same message he tries to pass on to his five children.

"I'm going to focus on what I've got, not on what I've lost," Dowling-Fitzpatrick said. "You can't let a disease or a sickness put you against the wall or in the ground."

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com

St. Francis DeSales High School will host its third annual Relay For Life beginning at 5 p.m. May 3 and ending at noon May 4.

The annual Hope's Angels Relay For Life is held in honor of former DeSales teacher Barbara O'Riordan, who lost her battle with cancer in November 2005.

DeSales spokeswoman Karen Cofojohn said the goal for the 2008 relay is to raise at least $50,000 for the American Cancer Society.

In addition to the actual relay, Cofojohn said DeSales organizers have planned activities for every hour during the relay. She said some time slots are still being worked out.

The current schedule for the relay includes:

5 p.m. Relay kicks off with the survivors' lap

6 p.m. Caregivers' lap, honoring Susan Ward of Nationwide Children's Hospital

6:45 p.m. Live auction

8 p.m. Mass will be celebrated by the Rev. Mark Ghiloni

9 p.m. Luminaria ceremony

10 p.m. performance by band This Is My Suitcase

11 p.m. Corn hole tournament

Midnight Pizza and games

1 a.m. Corn hole tournament

5 a.m. Poker lap

6 a.m. Pajama party

7 a.m. Rise-and-Shine karaoke

7:30 a.m. Pancake breakfast with Chris' Cakes

10 a.m. Fighting Back ceremony

11 a.m. Final lap

Noon Closing ceremony with team totals and awards

For more information about the third annual Hope's Angels Relay For Life, visit www.events.cancer.org/rfldesaleshsOH.