There’s that moment, the one all fear and never wish to experience, and it’s always followed by the question, “Am I going to die?”
Millions across the world, unfortunately, have confronted such moments and thoughts before they’ve begun their fight against a cancer diagnosis, and that is why 21 years ago Dr. Gordy Klatt from Tacoma, Wash., staged a one-man, 24-hour walk/run around a track to call attention to this disease and to raise funds.
Klatt generated $27,000 in donations in 1985, and since then Relay for Life has evolved into a worldwide event, and over 4 million people from 20 different countries have raised more than $400 million for the American Cancer Society. Because of those dollars and because of the education that has been shared and spread to millions more, a 23 percent decrease in the disease has been realized in the United States during the past two decades, according to local resident Brady Medovic.
“This is the largest fundraiser each year for the American Cancer Society, and we are lucky here in Ohio County to have one of the biggest in the entire state of West Virginia,” she reported. “A lot of the money does stay locally, and there is a portion that goes toward research grants and those sorts of things. We do have a research center here at OVMC, and we also have a patient navigator through the American Cancer Society and that is located at Wheeling Hospital.
“And these are not limited to the people being treated there. Anyone can go to those,” Medovic continued. “They can help with things like transportation, wigs, and things like that. That’s what people quickly realize at the beginning of their fight. There is support and plenty of people they can lean on.”
The Ohio County Relay for Life is set for this Friday at Wheeling Park in the area that surrounds Good Lake. In 2015, a total of $123,000 was raised, and Medovic said Relay organizers hope to grow that amount once again this year.
“People do start setting up their sites at around 7:30 a.m., and it continues throughout the day, really,” Medovic said. “The actual event doesn’t kick off until later in the day, but there are a lot of pre-event activities that begin around 2 p.m.
“We’ll have yoga and Zumba around the lake before the event officially begins, and there will be a lot of different games taking place, and there will be plenty of food, too,” she continued. “Many of our teams do prepare food for sale during the event as another way to raise even more funds for the Relay for Life.”
The Ohio County Relay for Life receives the support from students at Wheeling Park High School who are members of the WPHS ACS Youth Board headed up by teacher Peggy Dolan. The club’s objective is to make the younger population aware of cancer and its cruelties and to raise funds for the fight against the disease.
The members of the ACS Club, one of the largest at the high school, are involved in many different events including cancer awareness sporting events, and giving candy to the hospitals for cancer patients after their treatments, Christmas caroling at hospice and hospitals, supporting local families who are battling the illness with what they need (whether that be campaign for get-well cards, a gas gift card to help with the cost of getting to treatment, etc.), Dolan explained. And, of course, the students are involved with the annual Ohio County Relay for Life. Each year the WPHS ACS Youth Board, Dolan reported, has been a top-five team for the event. Along with Dolan, the WPHS ACS Youth Board is now guided by Lindsay McCormick and Jill Robbins.
“They are awesome, and they put forth a tremendous effort each and every year,” Medovic said. “And they learn about cancer, and hopefully that means they will stay away from the things that cause cancer, and that if they feel something wrong, that they go get checked.
“That’s one of the most important goals of Relay for Life — to spread the information to as many people as possible,” she said. “Gaining that education can save your life. It’s really that simple.”
Impacted and Determined
Medovic is very involved with the efforts of the American Cancer Society in Ohio County because, sadly, cancer has impacted her life. Her sister, Erin Brookes, was experiencing back pain in late 2002 and decided to visit with her physician to figure out the cause of the discomfort.
The cause was cervical cancer, and after a courageous battle that included a five-year period when she was cancer-free, Erin passed away in 2009.
“I lost my sister when she was only 36 years old,” Medovic explained. “She passed away from cervical cancer, but thankfully there was a short span of time when we got some extra time with her.
“That experience did give me the chance to see how the money that we raise every year is used and where it goes,” she continued. “But we lost her, and now my family’s mission is to make sure no one else has to go through that. It was a horrible experience that was filled with hope and then a lot of sadness, and we would love for no one else to have to suffer like she did again.”
And that is why, for the past seven years, Medovic has joined Dolan the many others with the mission of making the Ohio County Relay for Life the best and biggest it can possibly be.
“Losing my sister did change my life,” she said. “How could it not? I believe it changed everyone in our family, too, and when I get tired of fundraising or returning emails at 1 a.m., I just think of my daughter and how much I never want her to go through what Erin experienced.
“I am a big believer that we know ourselves the best, and we know our bodies,” Medovic continued. “And if you are concerned about something, or there’s something that is wrong, they need to go get checked instead of trying to get used to it because they are afraid.
“That’s why I always invite new people who have been touched by this disease to come to our Relay for Life. I tell them that there are a lot of people who have gone through what they have gone through, and I tell them that they will be amazed with the friends that they will make,” she added. “They likely think that they are all alone, but that’s just not true. There’s a whole group of people waiting to meet those new people.”
Somehow Erin remained positive and encouraged during her battle, her sister recalled, and that attitude amazed Medovic and her family members.
“She was a fantastic person, and one thing I will never forget about her is that even while going through the treatments, she never asked, ‘Why me’? And she never seemed upset that she had to go through what she went through,” Medovic recalled. “She was bubbly and happy even though she was sick and not feeling like herself.
“And she was never negative about it,” she continued. “There are times when I think about it, and that’s when I realize that when most of us get a common cold, all we do is complain about it. But she had that strength, and that kept our family going after she passed away. We just thought that if she could go through all of that with the attitude that she did then we could make something of her memory.”
While some participants decide to set up their areas during the early-morning hours, the many activities do not begin until the early afternoon. More than 60 baskets will be on display prior to the drawing, and a variety of other fundraisers will continue throughout the afternoon.
At 5 p.m., Olive Garden will cater the annual Survivor’s Dinner, and this year the gathering will be at the Stone Room near the pool. The Relay for Life will officially kick off at 7 p.m. with the Survivor’s Lap, and that will be followed by the Caregiver Lap before the team members can begin their trek around Good Lake.
Once the sun retreats behind the hilltops of the Upper Ohio Valley, the annual Luminaria Ceremony to remember the loved ones lost to cancer and those who are now battling against the disease will begin.
“If you see nothing else that night, you have to make sure you see this,” Medovic said. “Around 9 p.m. we light the candles in the bags that are placed around the lake, and there are usually over 1,000 of them each year.
“The ceremony is in honor of those who are still fighting, and it’s in honor of those who have passed on,” she said. “There is a moment of silence, and there is music, and it is quite an experience. I have never met a single person who has seen it and regretted seeing it. It’s life-changing.”
Organizers will then start the basket raffle at midnight, and the Relay for Life finishes up with the Closing/Fight Back Ceremony that begins at 1:30 a.m.
“And each year our Relay for Life in Ohio County has been between 45 and 55 teams,” Medovic said. “Our attitude is the more the merrier, and there is still time to get registered, or you can just show up at the event and get registered.
“Everyone who participates learns so much about the different kinds of cancers and the amount of support that is available here in our community,” she said. “I think that’s what scares people the most when they get that news because it’s something that makes you feel very alone.”
For more info on the Ohio County Relay for Life on Aug. 12, please visit relayforlife.org/ohiowv, or call Brady Medovic at 304-280-1151.
(Photos provided by Brady Medovic)