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Relaying A Message of Hope

Party kicks off work for 2013 American Cancer Society's joint Berkeley-Lacey Relay For Life event

In the time it takes you to read this article, someone, somewhere, will be diagnosed with cancer. It could be no one you know -- this time. But chances are that you already know someone who has or has had cancer. Chances are, it's a family member.

According to the American Cancer Society, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. Cancer isn't choosy. But for those who've battled it, who are fighting back, it is a very personal fight.

That desire to fight back against a disease that has changed their lives is what drew 50 people to the cafeteria at Central Regional High School on Thursday evening, for the kickoff for the 2013 Relay for Life event.

Relay for Life, a worldwide program designed to raise funds to fight cancer and raise awareness of the facts about cancer, centers around a 24-hour fundraising walk. First started in 1985 in Washington State by a doctor who sought to raise awareness and funds to fight cancer, Relay for Life now has more than 4 million participants annually in 20 countries. In 2011, they raised more than $4 billion.

The local event, set this year for May 18 at Veterans Park in Berkeley, is a joint event for Berkeley and Lacey and draws participants and volunteers from both towns. They all have a common bond, however: a desire to see cancer cured.

"I take this very personally," said Annie Charik of Lanoka Harbor, who is in charge of organizing survivor activities at the event. Charik, 55, is a 10-year survivor of ovarian cancer and has family members who've also had ovarian cancer.

Charik said she had just finished her treatments when she was passing Lacey Middle School one day.

"I saw the luminaria and felt like I was being drawn to it," she said. The luminaria are an integral part of the relay; candles are lit in paper bags decorated with the names of those who've lost their battle with the disease, to honor their memories. She has been volunteering and participating in Relay for Life ever since.

The relay, however, also honors the caregivers.

"Anyone who isn't a caregiver, it helps them understand how tiresome it is," said Jasmine Holmes, 16, of Bayville. Her mother, Maryellen Holmes, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. Now a three-year survivor of the disease, Holmes and her family participated in Relay for Life for the first time last year.

"We have a lot of family members with cancer," Maryellen Holmes said, "and I have two girls. I want to see cancer cured."

The breast cancer resulted in a double mastectomy. "For my 40th birthday I got new boobs," Holmes joked, but the reality of the disease and what she and her family faced is clearly still fresh, the emotions not far from the surface as she spoke. She was used to taking care of her family and everyone around her. Cancer forced her to be the one receiving care.

"I don't like to sit still," Maryellen Holmes said. She had to rely on her cousin to take care of her daughters. And she even had to rely on her daughters to help her bathe. "For me not to be myself was hard. It was really hard giving up control."

"So now we are Team CMB," she said, as Jasmine and younger daughter Jessie, 12, flanked her. "Celebrating More Birthdays." The team, which walked for the first time last year, not only included family but members of Jasmine's Girl Scout Troop 502.

"Everyone spent the night," Jasmine said.

"The caregivers are the unsung heroes," said Diana Dozois of Bayville, a 17-year cancer survivor and a member of the organizing committee. "They are the ones who are so often overlooked."

Each Relay has a theme, and the theme for this year's Berkeley-Lacey event is Rainbows of Hope, said event coordinator Roxanne Stephens.

"We wanted to do something to inspire the community as a whole to be hopeful, after the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy," said Stephens, 40, who lost both her mother, Marge Hughes, and her mother-in-law to breast cancer in a 14-month span. Her family had been preparing to walk in their first Relay event in 2009 when her mother died three weeks before the walk occurred.

Participating in Relay for Life became a family event, she said, one that has raised the awareness of her own children.

"They're 7 and 9 and they know as much about Relay as I do," she said.

The rainbow theme allows participants a lot of flexibility, she said. They can focus on a color specific to the type of cancer that has touched them or their families, or they can celebrate the colorfulness of the rainbow.

The kickoff event was attended by Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato, Council President James J. Byrnes and Councilwoman Judy Noonan, and Stephens and co-coordinator Brandon Page presented them with a sign proclaiming Berkeley as a Relay for Life Community.

"We appreciate your support," Stephens told Amato.

"We are really proud to host this event," Amato said to the participants.'

Stephens and Page also honored Lacey High School with a Relay for Life School designation, in honor of efforts that produced a team of walkers from the high school for the 2012 event.

Page has been volunteering with the Relay for Life event for several years, since a previous organizer asked him if he'd be interested.

"I was helping out at an event in Point (Pleasant) called Christmas in July," he said, which raises money for the American Cancer Society, when the woman in charge approached him about Relay for Life.

"I saw what it was all about and I was hooked," he said.

Maddalena Ratyniak of Lacey organizes the luminaria at the Relay. At 18, she is one of the youngest committee members. As she stood at the table displaying information about the luminaria, she said she has been participating in Relay for Life for four or five years in memory of her grandmother, who died of cancer 10 years ago.

"It makes me feel like I'm doing something for other people," she said.

Information on participating in the 2013 Relay for Life event at Veterans Park can be obtained by visiting www.relayforlife.org/berkeleynj.

LT Guy January 19, 2013 at 02:43 PM
Here's the video we put together for the event if you'd like to see it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wjpw60RKvkE
LT Guy January 19, 2013 at 02:43 PM
Here's the video we put together for the event if you'd like to see it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wjpw60RKvkE

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