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Berkeley Co. Relay for Life a victory for cancer survivors

June 05, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE
  • Cindy Gaither, at left, gets a hug from "Team Piglet" teammate Brenda Conley while preparing for the Relay for Life of Berkeley County held at Martinsburg High School. "Team Piglet" walks in honor of Jane Gaither, Cindy's aunt, who has battled cancer for the last five years and got it's name because "Aunt Jane loves pigs," according to Cindy Gaither.
Kelly Hahn Johnson, Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- More than 1,800 people walked the track at Martinsburg High School through Saturday afternoon and evening until 6 this morning during Berkeley County's annual American Cancer Society's Relay for Life fundraiser.

Many of them wore T-shirts emblazoned on the back with "Happy Birthday is a victory song," a battle cry of cancer survivors.

For about 275 of them, Diana Manor included, the relay is another victory in the fight against the dreaded disease.

Manor, 53, of Hedgesville, W.Va., has been winning the fight against breast cancer for nine years.

"I'm cancer-free right now," she said.

There were hundreds more like Manor on the walk, cancer survivors as well as those who care for loved ones and friends who are stricken with the disease.

At one point Saturday afternoon, more than 275 cancer survivors grabbed pink and white balloons and headed off in one direction on the Cobourn Field track while another group, all caregivers, headed off in the opposite direction. The groups met halfway around.

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There were toddlers being pushed in strollers, kids, teens and adults, young and old. They all walked for a common goal, to raise money for cancer research.

They belonged to one of 108 teams spread around an infield turned into a multicolored forest of tents.

Every school in the Berkeley County School District fielded a team. Many area churches did, as did social, veteran and civic organizations. Area businesses formed teams.

The relay is the annual celebration for all the teams and volunteers who raise money from Sept. 1 through the following Aug. 31. They raise money through pledges at the relay and by holding fundraisers.

"This is a year-round effort," said Missy Elkins, relay chairperson. "Last year, we raised $318,000."

The Heroes Support Group, compiled of survivors and caregivers, has raised $11,000 so far this year, said Manor, a member of that organization.

"Cancer changed my life," she said, but not until she got into a support group. "Before that, I was very shy. I never got involved in anything."

She is the Berkeley County coordinator of Reach to Recovery, a support group that reaches out to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Teams try to reach their goal by relay day although they still have nearly three more months to do so.

Barbara Henry of Martinsburg, community manager for Berkeley and Jefferson counties and Shepherd University, for the American Cancer Society, said the majority of the money raised goes into research.

The "Memory Board," a large sign listing the names of hundreds of cancer victims, surviving family members and caregivers, was prominently displayed in front of the bleachers. Luminarias were lighted after dark. It's part of every Relay for Life weekend, Manor said.

Rosemont Elementary School's team has 28 members, said Judy Pugh, a first-grade teacher in the school. A large remembrance sign leaned in front of their tent. On it were the names of 48 cancer victims who were and are family members or friends of Rosemont employees. One name, highlighted by a photo, was Jill Clohan, a Rosemont teacher who succumbed to cancer this year. She was 59.

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