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Cancer survivors join forces for the cause



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The event is one of 110 relay events planned for Ohio this year.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Amy Elias and Ann Meek were front and center Friday evening when the Survivors Walk began at the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life event at Youngstown State's Beeghly Center.

As Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" blared over the public address system, Elias and Meek walked along in their bright yellow T-shirts, Meek with the aid of a cane, smiling and laughing as they went. Both are cancer survivors, living well after beating a disease that many never escape.

"It's been two years for me," Elias said. "I had breast cancer, and I thought it was the worst thing that could possibly happen. But I was in the Navy in World War II. It was going to take more than cancer to get me. Look at all these people who have survived this -- all who are here to keep fighting. It makes you know it's possible."

Meek is now nine years removed from her bout with ovarian cancer and said that her family and events such as the relay make her realize how lucky she is to be alive.

"I wouldn't have made it without a lot of help," Meek said. "I've made a lot of friends, people who have gone through the same things that I have. When you have that kind of support, you know you can do anything."

From the beginning

Relay For Life began in Tacoma, Wash., in 1985 when Dr. Gordon Klatt ran and walked alone around a track for 24 hours, traveling 81 miles. He raised $27,000 for the fight against cancer.

Klatt's idea grew into relay-style team event. There are now more than 2,800 events across the country, raising more than $169 million last year. Ohio plays host to 110 Relay For Life events each year, raising about $7 million annually. Teams from businesses, churches, civic groups and friends get together and take pledges to help in the battle to find a cure for cancer. Events range in length from 18 to 24 hours. The event at YSU was to run for 18 hours.

Area relays have been among the most successful in the nation. Trumbull County's $901,225 raised in 2004 was the best in the nation per capita. The event in Boardman was a close second.

How has the Valley been able to lead the way? Beth MacDonald of the American Cancer Society said it's generosity.

"You can't imagine the things we see people do to help raise money," MacDonald said. "It's the most amazing show of generosity I have ever seen. They hold yard sales, bake sales and dances. They do everything they can to help raise money to beat this disease.

"How much did we raise in our district last year? A lot. I can't recall the exact amount, but we raised millions right here. It's all because we live in a very giving community that takes care of others."

Goal in sight

The goal for Friday's event was $48,500 and the group had reached half its total at opening ceremonies, with hopes of reaching its mark for the second time in the last four years.

The Beeghly Center had a carnival-like atmosphere inside with booths set up on the concourse to keep walkers occupied during the event. Walkers hauled in coolers, pillows and sleeping bags to prepare for the long night.

Marilyn Ward, who co-chaired the event with Marie Cullen, said no matter how many years she is involved, the Survivors Walk is always emotional. The walkers begin under a sign that says "Finish: There is no finish until a cure is found."

"It's amazing to see how many people there are who have survived cancer," Ward said. "There is no one whose life hasn't been touched in some way by this disease. It's a lot of work pulling all this together, but you see them and it's all worth it."




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