'Cruisin' for more Birthdays with Relay for Life of Washington County

January 27, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Deann Routson the Online Chairman for Washington County Relay For Life was dressed in all purple to represent how joining the Relay For Life is as committed as drinking the purple Kool-Aid Sunday afternoon during the Relay Kickoff
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Sharon and John Gildee participated in their first Relay for Life of Washington County in 2008, the year after she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, Sharon Gildee said Sunday.

Their team name for the fundraiser, which benefits American Cancer Society programs, education and research, was the Aloha Angels, said her husband, John.

It was a Hawaiian theme that year, but the Gildees kept the team name for each relay, including the one coming up June 14 and 15 at Fairgrounds Park in Hagerstown. The theme this year is “Cruisin’ for more Birthdays — Relay with a Love Boat Twist.”

The American Cancer Society held a kickoff Sunday at the Morris Frock American Legion post in Hagerstown’s North End for this year’s Relay for Life. About 40 people attended the event, where they learned about the history of the relay, fundraising and an upcoming study for which the national organization is seeking participants.

The local cancer society organization will have a weeklong effort in July to get people to sign up for Cancer Prevention Study-3, said Cathy Beckley-Thomas, the cancer society’s community manager for Washington County. The local group is hoping at least 500 people who meet eligibility requirements will sign up for the study that will attempt to link genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors to cancer.

Among the local programs Relay for Life events benefits is one that provides training to volunteer drivers to take patients to and from treatment, and another that provides cancer patients with a two-hour session with a cosmetologist who provides makeup kits and tips, Beckley-Thomas said.

Having a relay team involves as much work as team members want it to, said Missy DeHaven, who, along with Carla Charles, is co-chairing this year’s Relay for Life at Fairgrounds Park.

Last year’s relay at the Hagerstown park raised $147,620 and featured 65 teams, Beckley-Thomas said.

DeHaven said there are 30 teams so far for this year’s relay, and the goal is to have 76 teams.

The Relay for Life of Washington County Colleges will be April 12 at Hagerstown Community College, and the Relay for Life of Southern Washington County will be June 21 and 22 at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center. Information about Relay for Life events can be found online at

Traditionally, cancer survivors kick off the relays by walking the first lap.

Several teams hold various fundraisers leading up to the events and accept donations at the relays.

To raise funds for the Aloha Angels, Sharon Gildee sells cancer-awareness bracelets, for $20 each, that she makes using sterling silver ribbon charms, sterling silver insert beads and various colored beads, she said.

The different colored beads represent the different types of cancer, said Gildee, 66, of the Hagerstown area. The bracelets can be purchased by contacting her at

Gildee said she got involved with Relay for Life after going through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to treat her cancer, and because of the support she received.

“I just felt so many people did so much for me that I wanted to give back,” Gildee said.

Since her treatment, her husband, John, has had his own fight with cancer.

John, 70, had esophageal cancer, resulting in a March 9, 2011, surgery in Pittsburgh in which his esophagus was removed and replaced with a reshaped portion of his stomach lining, he said.

He has to eat several small meals a day, but can eat just about anything, he said.

About two months ago, he had two tumors removed from his bladder, without need for further treatment, John Gildee said.

He said he participates in the relay as “payback, to try to assist with information because when you’re diagnosed,” he said, pausing, “you feel very lonely.”

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