Warren Relay For Life inspires hope for those affected by cancer

By Ed Runyan



Maria Pelayo of Warren not only endured rainy weather Friday night to support the American Cancer Society Relay For Life, she took a pie to the face — about 10 times.

Pelayo, 21, was part of a Relay team raising money in memory of her grandfather, Edward Sersich, who was a cancer survivor, but died in January. Pelayo is also a cancer survivor.

She was part of a group operating a booth on Courthouse Square during the annual cancer fundraiser that allowed people to throw a whipped-cream pie at someone for $1.

“One person paid to pie themselves,” one of the team members said.

The event began at 6 p.m. and continues until 6 p.m. today.

Palayo, who seemed to have the most pie on her face and hair of the people participating, said the Survivor’s Lap at the start of the Relay is powerful for her.

“I feel like when you come to downtown for Relay For Life you feel nothing but community and love, hoping a lap can help somebody live. It’s an amazing thing.”

The money her booth raises, along with donations made when Edward Searsich died, are going to the Howland Hope Center, a cancer-treatment facility.


Warren’s Relay For Life is the largest one in Ohio and 37th largest in the U.S., said A.C. McCullough, one of the masters of ceremonies.

Michael O’Brien, former Warren mayor and a cancer survivor, said he thinks the event has become so big in Warren because of the efforts of Dr. Robert Brodell, who started Warren’s Relay.

The Courthouse Square location is also ideal for the event because of the square walking pattern around the courthouse, plus the Courthouse Square Park that provides space for booths.

Melanie Cibik, 28, of Champion, was wearing one of the more eye-catching costumes. She was dressed as Iron Man, one of the characters from the Avengers movie.

Other members of the Champion Church of the Nazarene also dressed as Avenger characters, such as Stephanie Young, team captain, who was dressed as Black Widow.

“I love Avengers, so when we talked about what team name we wanted, I wanted Avengers,” Cibik said.

Cibik was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2012 at age 26 but has been cancer free for 15 months.

“I almost died twice,” she said of the year she was diagnosed, spending 16 days in intensive care in June 2012 and five days in intensive care in November 2012.

When asked what the Relay For Life means to her, Cibik said, “I feel proud, not just for me, but for all of the cancer survivors. You just keep going. It’s a boost to share with so many people.

“It’s like they say, ‘I’m hope. My grandpa has been cancer-free for nine years. It’s an inspiration that you can do it.”

Another member of the Naz Champs Avengers team who marched with Cibik was Connie Young, mother of Stephanie Young.

Connie has been cancer-free for seven years, but cancer has affected a huge number of people in her family.

“I just thank God I’m still here,” she said. “I didn’t have any symptoms and they caught it in time.”

Connie said she is from a family of cancer victims, including a brother who died of cancer in 2010 at age 54, her former husband who died of cancer 17 years ago, and her mother, uncle, father, grandfather and grandmother.


Warren Mayor Doug Franklin estimated that Friday night’s attendance was among the largest he’s seen in Warren, despite the threat of rain.

“We’re a community that is about survival,” he said. “We’re going to raise the most money we’ve ever raised.”

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