Relay For Life season kicks off for ’21 at YSU with $67,150 goal
By SEAN BARRON
YOUNGSTOWN — Joey Gaskell could easily be called the comeback kid for the way he responds to everything from humorous quips he hears to fighting cancer.
“He’s been such a trooper throughout, but he’s still the same kid,” Jessica Gaskell said about her son, 4, who was diagnosed at 18 months with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer of the bone marrow and blood that affects mainly the white blood cells.
It also is the most common childhood cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Gaskell, assistant director of Youngstown State University’s First Year Student Services office, also was among those who participated in Saturday’s Relay For Life event at YSU’s Watson and Tressel Training Site.
A primary goal was to raise $67,150 — $1 per case of cancer diagnosed since 2019, the latest year for which figures are available — noted Caitlyn Risley, an event co-coordinator. Funds will go to the American Cancer Society for research, with a push toward diversity, equity and inclusion in an effort to treat rare types of cancer and focus more on minority cultures, Risley explained.
Nearly 1.9 million new cancer diagnoses are expected this year, but more than 16.9 million Americans with a history of the disease were living Jan. 1, 2019, most of whom had been diagnosed many years earlier but had no current evidence of cancer, the American Cancer Society’s website states.
Joey, who his mother described as positive and easygoing with a pronounced sense of humor, relapsed in early February, which means he is undergoing about 18 months of extended treatment. Initially, Joey’s physical appearance and poor energy level made his parents suspect something was wrong, Gaskell recalled.
“He was always an active toddler and became lethargic. He also had weird bruising,” she said, adding that in addition, he had red pinpoint-sized spots on his leg called petechiae.
The boy’s bruising, rash and drop in energy prompted his parents to get him checked. After his bloodwork results, Joey was transported to Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, where it was revealed he had the common form of leukemia, his mother remembered.
On March 31, the boy completed one month of intensive treatment designed largely to increase his strength and allow him to gain weight, she said.
An estimated 25 teams with names such as “# Joey Strong,” “Build the Fun” and “Waddle for a Cure” took part in the eight-hour indoor event. Also included were paper bags of luminaria surrounding the track that were set up to honor survivors and remember those who lost their battle with the disease.
The gathering also featured a survivors lap, closed to the public because of the pandemic, in which those who beat cancer were cheered by other survivors. In addition, about 20 participants took part in a silent, somber walk to reflect on those who have survived or lost their lives to cancer.
Gaskell, however, is happy to reflect on her son’s progress, regardless of what lies ahead for the youngster, who may need treatment until fall 2022.
‘I just hope as a family, we can advocate and support Joey and other kids like him,” Gaskell said. “Every day he’s doing better. That’s what we like to see.”