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Cancer can't kill his Christmas


Chernisky stays positive in fight



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In his garb as a “colon polyp” during the 2008 Relay for Life, Robert Chernisky Jr. displays some of the energy that’s now going into fighting his own cancer and helping his fellow patients with theirs. (click for larger version)
December 27, 2009
BY GUS STEEVES

NEWS STAFF WRITER

SOUTHBRIDGE — To most people, spending Christmas in the hospital isn't the ideal gift. That's especially true when you find out you have leukemia.

But Robert Chernisky Jr. took it as an opportunity to entertain a couple dozen strangers by drumming up interest in a Christmas party on the University of Massachusetts Medical Center oncology ward, complete with "a professional Santa," small gifts and food, he said.

"I'm healthy, but can't go home because my immune system's so far down," Chernisky said. "I realized there are a lot of people here who don't have the outside support system I have."

Chernisky is fairly well known in the local cancer community for his long involvement in the Relay for Life of Greater Southbridge, first as organizer of a Wal-Mart team and later of his own family team. But those who go to the annual event (held in mid-June) may best know him as the guy in the big, red polyp outfit who lets others throw water balloons at him as he mocks them.

He said he started with the Relay years ago for two main reasons — it seemed like a good cause and his family has the disease on both sides. This year, for example, his nephew Aidan was one of the honorary survivors.

Early this month, Chernisky joined that "club" by chance.

For more on this story, please see Monday's Southbridge Evening News.

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