As Canal Winchester Mayor Mike Ebert made his way from table to table May 15 at the Kris Sims Memorial Relay For Life dinner, the well-wishes and words of encouragement made for an emotional evening.
For the past 11 years, Ebert and other elected city officials have waited tables for tips at the annual event, named in honor of the woman who started the city's Relay For Life team to raise money for cancer research long before she was diagnosed with cancer herself -- a disease that eventually took her life.
But this year's event hit home for the three-term mayor, who received a bone-marrow transplant last fall after being diagnosed with two types of cancer.
"A lot of people came up to me and told me how good I looked," Ebert said.
"It makes you feel good hearing that. The last time they saw me, I didn't look so good."
Last October, oncologists at Ohio State's James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute diagnosed Ebert with myelofibrosis, an uncommon type of bone marrow cancer, and also MDS, or myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of blood cancer.
Doctors completed the bone-marrow transplant on Nov. 1, after Ebert, 68, found a donor in his sister, Annette Ebert, who was a 100% match. Typically, female-to-male donors are only a 50% match, Ebert was told.
"That was absolutely the best news we could've gotten," he said. "It can be difficult because (doctors) prefer an 80% match."
Ebert spent more than a month in the hospital and underwent chemotherapy treatment.
He lost more than 30 pounds.
"When I was in the hospital, I just could not eat," Ebert said. "I didn't feel like eating. The only thing I could really eat was Cheerios and hot tea, and that was about it."
During that time, he remained in communication with City Hall through emails.
While Ebert didn't like to talk about his battle publicly, it didn't take residents and city employees long to learn what he was going through.
"I got hundreds of cards, some from people I've never even met before," he said. "That was pretty emotional, too. Once you think about everyone who sent cards, it was like, 'Oh, my God.' I just couldn't believe it. I got a card from every city employee."
Although doctors haven't used the word "remission" in his case, he said they have reduced his medications.
Those who attended the Kris Sims dinner at the Frances Steube Community Center dined on a three-course meal of salad and bread, spaghetti and meatballs, and coffee and dessert.
Ebert likes to promote lighthearted competitions among members of the city's Village People 4 Hope team to help boost tips.
This year's competition paid off.
"We had approximately 100 people in attendance and raised $2,565 for Relay For Life," city Finance Director Amanda Jackson said. "To the best of my knowledge, this is the most we have ever raised at this event."
Canal Winchester's annual Relay For Life begins at 4 p.m. June 22 at Canal Winchester High School. It ends at midnight.