By Jordan Cohen
Wearing purple T-shirts emblazoned with the words “celebrate, remember, fight back,” an estimated 800 cancer survivors and family members walked the streets of Courthouse Square, launching the American Cancer Society’s annual Relay for Life on Friday evening.
Sheri Bolotenny of Brookfield, a survivor of an especially virulent form of leukemia, walked with her son. She also was there in memory of her mother, whose picture she wore on her shirt.
“My mother and I were diagnosed with leukemia within five days of each other in 2004, and I was given four weeks to live,” said Bolotenny, 41. Her mother, Linda Luoma, died in 2005 even though she was not believed to be as seriously ill at the time.
“It’s hard sometimes, and there are some long-term things we have to live with,” said Bolotenny, “but [the relay] is a good thing, and I have two kids who need me.” Bolotenny said July will mark her seventh year of recovery.
Another of the survivors, Barbara Murray of Warren, said she has been free of kidney cancer for 12 years. Murray, 64, said she has another reason to be thankful; on May 29, her daughter Kenya will marry Doug Franklin, Warren’s mayor-elect who won his primary election this week and has no opponents in the general election.
“Thank God I’ve lived to see this,” Murray said.
Phil O’Hara, relay co-chairman, said the organization hopes to raise $416,000 by the time the relay ends at 6 p.m. today. The goal is considerably higher than last year’s total of $380,000.
“It’s a little tough, but hopefully, with good weather, we can hit our goal,” O’Hara said.
The co-chairman got his wish initially as threatening skies gave way to sunshine when the cancer survivors and nearly 90 teams of fundraisers began the relay. Scattered thundershowers, however, were reported in the Warren area several hours later.
Though nearly all the groups wore identifying T-shirts, a team from ValleyCare Trumbull Memorial Hospital Cancer Center had the most unusual garb. The women wore togas, and some of the men were dressed as Roman soldiers. The sign on T-shirts under their costumes — “Rome-in for a cure.”
Organizers estimate that between 8,000 and 10,000 people will be trying to raise funds in the fight against cancer during the 24 hours. Among them is Traci Wolford of Cortland, leading a 30-member group called the “Tough Cookies.” Wolford said her 37-year-old sister, Leslie May of Cortland, had surgery for brain cancer Friday morning in Cleveland.
“My sister has been on the relay board for 17 years, and I’m walking for her with my family and friends,” Wolford said.
A team sponsored by Warren Drs. Robert and Linda Brodell raised $60,000 last year and already has reached that figure this year, according to Sue Pappada, the team captain.
“We’ve raised a half- million dollars in the 17 years we’ve been doing this,” Pappada said.
Courthouse Square was festooned with tents in which team members sold food, flowers, assorted gifts and raffles with all proceeds going to the cancer society. In one of the tents, Outback Steakhouse donated free dinners for all the cancer survivors and their families.