Purple in the rain

WARREN – Heavy rains delayed but didn’t stop hundreds of cancer survivors from making the opening lap of the Warren Relay for Life Friday night around Courthouse Square.

The Warren Relay, the largest in the state and among the top in the nation for money raised and participants, is marking its 20-year anniversary this year coinciding with the 100-year anniversary of American Cancer Society.

Pam Marshall of the ACS and event coordinator, said it was decided to feed the cancer survivors first inside the tent and then have them walk an hour later when the rain stopped. Usually, survivors are treated to a dinner after the opening lap.

She said this year there are 70 teams with a goal of raising $330,000 by the end of the 24-hour relay at 6 p.m. today with the relay starting at $250,000 on Friday.

”We plan to keep going on all night despite the rain,” Marshall said.

Selected to hold the banner in the center for the cancer survivor lap was one-year cancer survivor Cassidy Brozovich, 12, a sixth-grader from Howland.

”It’s nice to meet the other cancer survivors who are here. They have made me feel really happy seeing them and being with them,” she said.

Brozovich said she especially remembers speaking to a 7-year-old girl who was diagnosed last August with lymphoma.

Brozovich was diagnosed in March 2011 when she age 10 in fifth grade with ovarian cancer. She was undergoing chemotherapy last year when the relay took place and attended for a short time.

”She is one year cancer free this week,” said her mother, Michele Bolchalk who was with her when she was selected to hold the banner.

For the 13 years, Ben Rhoads of Outback Steakhouse has fed the more than 700 survivors and their families.

”This whole group is like a giant family. It’s moving that they do so much. I’ve been hugged more today than I will be the rest of the year from people I have never met before,” Rhoads said.

Named Relay king and queen were Jim Gintert of Champion and Sylvia Hoso of Warren.

Hoso, an 11-year survivor, was accompanied by her husband, daughter and daughter-in-law who were all cancer survivors.

”This is the first time I have ever been named a queen in my whole life,” she said.

Gintert, a 25-year cancer survivor, was accompanied by family including a grandson and other family members who are cancer survivors.

Paula Church of Cortland, celebrating her 12-year anniversary, said she is grateful to be at the event with her granddaughter, Kaiden Fox, 2, who was wearing a shirt proclaiming ”I Relay for My Nana” and a bow with the words ”I Love Nana.”

”I am so happy just to be able to be here and see my grandkids. I never thought I would be here to see them,” Church said.

Ken Kramp, event co-chair and a 25-year cancer survivor, said each year the committee planning the event makes ”little tweak” to the relay.

”This event brings all these teams together to celebrate a year of accomplishment of fundraising as we fight cancer. This also is more than an event for the cancer survivors because cancer is something that has affected their lives, their family, friends and co-workers,” Kramp said.

Maxine McGaughy of Warren is a nine-year cancer survivor. She said the event reminds her of all the help ACS has done for her to get her medicine.

”This is the sixth relay I have been to this year. It feels good to get the support from others ,” she said noting she went to Niles, Youngstown State University, and John Carroll.

Tracey Showers of Newton Falls, also a nine-year cancer survivor, said her friends who had their own team at the event wanted her to attend.

”This event shows everyone there is hope and that they made it through another year,” Showers said.

Edward Sersich of Warren, who is battling cancer, said this was the first relay he has attended relay bringing with him for support his wife, sisters, daughter and granddaughter, who are all cancer survivors.

Mayor Doug Franklin led the countdown to start the relay.

”This city knows how to take a punch and get back up and fight. We know how to stand up for a great cause like this,” he said.

bcoupland@tribtoday.com