Several hundred cancer survivors and their supporters kicked off the inaugural Mahoning County Relay for Life in Boardman Park on Saturday and capped a successful relay season in the Mahoning Valley.
Nearly $500,000 has been raised for cancer support services and research at six events in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties since April.
On Saturday, representatives of the former Boardman, Austintown and Poland Relay for Life events merged into one large Mahoning County event.
The merger follows a trend in the Relay movement nationwide to cut down operating expenses – and increase funds for cancer services – by combining Relays in nearby geographic areas into one larger event.
Despite cloudy skies and the threat of rain, about 400 people gathered for opening ceremonies at the Maag Outdoor Theater at the park.
After those morning formalities, cancer patients or former cancer patients among the group took the traditional survivors lap in the park.
Throughout the day, 53 teams walked and dashed their way through the course to raise pledge money for cancer research and services for survivors.
Others visited some two-dozen tents erected by sponsors and teams that were raising additional funds for the cause.
By mid-day Saturday, about $125,000 had been raised. The event was scheduled to continue until 11 p.m.
Heather Wright of New Middletown, who served as one of the leaders of the Survivors Lap, outlined her journey from sadness to hope since her initial cancer diagnosis June 24, 2016.
Doctors then said she had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer with cancer also spreading to all of her bones.
“I felt overwhelmed. I walked in Poland Woods to get some peace and quiet — and to cry,” she said.
She was given 12 months to live. Three years later, her terminal diagnosis has been downgraded to chronic illness, and she remains steadfastly committed to the fight.
“Metatastic cancer is relentless, but so am I,” she said.
She urged other cancer survivors to follow her three-pronged prescription for dealing with the disease: God, family and exercise.
She said she has relied heavily on her faith. “Incurable is a word created by a man that does not know my God,” she told the crowd.
Family and friends prove crucial in accomplishing day-to-day tasks and the heavy regimen of treatments. “Let people bless us,” she said.
She also urged those fighting the disease to exercise daily. “Exercise helps strengthen bones and oxygenates the body,” she said.
Since her diagnosis, she said she has run in five 5-kilometer races as therapy.
As a Mahoning Relay for Life Hero for Hope, Wright is also a staunch advocate for the event, the principal fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. About 5,000 Relay events take place yearly.
“We’re really close to a cure and we have to relay until there’s a cure,” she told participants.
Here is a rundown of the results of the six 2019 Relay for Life events in the Valley this year. Fundraising totals are tentative as some residual donations are still coming in for several of them.
Warren Relay for Life, $168,190
Mahoning County Relay for Life, $124,713 plus additional funds raised in Boardman Park on Saturday afternoon and evening.
Columbiana County Relay for Life, $53,751.
Youngstown State University Relay for Life, $46,873
Liberty-McDonald Relay for Life, $45,358.
Niles Relay for Life, $29,139.
The 2020 Relay for Life season will begin April 18 at Farmers National Bank Field at YSU.