‘You inspire us with your strength, and we celebrate you’

Anthony Holloway

3,000 participants raise money for cancer research

Cancer survivors take an honorary lap around the track during the national 25th anniversary of Relay for Life Saturday. The event raised about $75,000 for cancer research. Rachel Kilroy | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

WATCH a video about a local man facing his battle with cancer.

After 12 hours of walking, a crowd filling nearly half of a usually empty track gathered around a white tent to listen to the words of those who refused to be beaten by cancer.

Alyssa Baynes, the 10-year-old honorary speaker for Kent State’s eighth annual Relay for Life, said she was “a little” nervous about telling a crowd what it’s like to have cancer.

Later, Alyssa, the daughter of a Kent firefighter, puttered in her own shyness as she stepped up to the microphone. She began to explain how she was 3 years old when doctors diagnosed her with leukemia. She finished chemotherapy while she was in first grade.

“It was very inspiring to see the youth of America here,” said Alyssa’s mother, Kim. She went on to explain that Alyssa endured three years and 37 treatments of chemotherapy.

It was not just the words that caused inspiration, though. It was also the feeling of “hope” that came after them.

As a song of remembrance written specifically for Kent State’s Relay for Life played, 410 white and purple paper bags labeled with names of hopeful people with cancer and those who passed lined the edge of the Liquid Crystal Institute Track Saturday night for the Luminaries ceremony.

The 24-hour event, which raised an unofficial total of $78,139.76, kicked off at 10 a.m. Saturday with the opening ceremony. Throughout the day, 84 teams kept at least one member walking around the track at all time to raise money for cancer research.

Rachel Kessler, co-chair for Relay for Life at Kent State, said about 40 cancer survivors came. The opening ceremony, which included the Kent State Pep Band, Kent Fire Fighters Color Guard and a flyover from the Kent State Flight Team, spoke directly to the survivors present on the sunny, 72- degree morning.

“You inspire us with your strength, and we celebrate you,” Kessler said during the ceremony.

Louise Ditchey, academic program director of the graduate school of management, was one of the survivors.

Ditchey said in 1993 she received the diagnosis of having Hodgkin’s Disease, a type of lymphoma, which deals with the immune system. She said she experienced both chemotherapy and radiation before becoming cancer free. Ditchey said the support of her friends, family and co-workers is what kept her going.

Ditchey has participated in the Kent State Relay for Life for the past four years. She said she and other survivors appreciate the effort Kent State students put into making it work.

“Students take the leadership roles, and survivors just want to say thank you,” Ditchey said.

Sandra Montgomery, assistant director of student financial aid, said the support is “kind of overwhelming.”

Montgomery, a 1990 Kent State graduate, said she in part came to Relay for Life in remembrance of her son, Brian, who passed away in 2006 from brain cancer. She said doctors diagnosed Brian when he was 7. He went through chemotherapy and radiation treatment before falling to cancer.

Montgomery said she also came to support Brian’s Buddies & Blankets, an organization set in remembrance of her son, which raises money that goes to the research of children’s cancer and brain tumor research.

“You hear about it, but you never think it will happen to you,” she said.

Senior theater major Molly Maclagan said she didn’t understand her diagnosis at first.

“At first, I didn’t understand the doctor was telling me I had cancer,” Maclagan said.

She said she was 15 years old when the doctors diagnosed her with melanoma, a type of skin cancer. She said she had a cancerous mole, which the doctors were able to identify early and remove. Maclagan said her case isn’t as severe as some others, but she feels compelled to come out and support others.

“I owe it to the people who caught my cancer early on,” Maclagan said.

She said she understands the anxiety of first being diagnosed.

“It messes with you until you know you’re clear,” Maclagan said. “You’re always wondering if it’s your last time visiting your grandparents or last time riding a roller coaster.”

Katie Cleary, senior political science major, said she is familiar with losing time with grandparents. Cleary said her grandmother died when she was 6 and her grandfather when she was 7, both because of cancer. She said Relay for Life is a great way to advocate for a cure for cancer so people can “get to know their grandparents.”

Kessler said she estimated nearly 3,000 people attended the event. A handful of the attendees decided to take the challenge of walking for the entire 24 hours.

Two of them were couple Jon Berry, senior flight technology major, and Andrea Premraj, senior biological chemistry major. Berry said this year was his third year participating in Relay for Life. He said he is in part walking for a 3-year-old he knows with an inoperable brain tumor.

“I hope doing this brings more awareness about the cause,” Berry said.

Premraj said this was her fourth time walking for 24 hours straight and sixth year in Relay for Life.

“It hurts a lot,” Premraj said, “but just imagine what cancer patients have to go through.”

She said she worked in a hospital and saw the consequences of cancer first hand.

“It touched my heart to see kids in chemo and parents in chemo,” Premraj said.

The night proved important for Premraj and Berry for another reason. Berry said he planned for about six months before he mustered the courage to “pop the question.” Berry said he chose to do it at Relay for Life because he knew the importance of the event to Premraj.

Contact news correspondent Anthony Holloway at [email protected].