WELLSBURG - Organizers of the Brooke-Hancock American Cancer Society Relay for Life launched preparations for this year's event military style, dressed in khaki fatigues and issuing orders to do battle against the enemy known as cancer at the kickoff dinner Tuesday at the Wellsburg Banquet Hall.
Chairman Dave Secrist and co-chairs Paul and Tammy Hornick and Sandy Yankura announced "Boot Camp" will be the theme for this year's event, which will be held from 6 p.m. to midnight June 7 at Follansbee Middle School.
The approach was unique but still in keeping with the Relay's usual tone of light and somber moments. Secrist borrowed liberally from John F. Kennedy's inaugural address as he exhorted the "army" of Relay for Life supporters, "Ask not what your Relay can do for you, but what you can do for your Relay."
SURVIVOR ADVICE — Cancer survivor Guz Monezis offered advice to the many attending a kickoff dinner Tuesday at the Wellsburg Banquet Hall for the Brooke-Hancock American Cancer Society Relay for Life. -- Warren Scott
Though he delivered the speech with tongue in cheek, Secrist was sincere in calling upon residents of Brooke and Hancock counties to use the event as a means to pay tribute to loved ones who have lost battles against cancer, honor those who have survived and help eliminate all forms of cancer through research and preventive measures supported and promoted by the American Cancer Society.
The dinner opened with a bit of levity - members of the Going Bananas for a Cure relay team from Burgettstown Area Middle/High School presented a military drill inspired by the movie "Stripes" under the direction of "Drill Sgt." Steve Lauck, the relay's entertainment chairman.
On a serious note, April Kimball thanked "everyone who really went through boot camp and those who supported them" in their decision to defend America's freedoms, before delivering the invocation.
Advice was offered by Gus Monezis, a long-time Weirton business owner and cancer survivor.
"I have three points to make: listen to your wife, get a second opinion and maintain a positive spirit," Monezis said.
He said after he experienced a "spark" in his eye, his wife Agnes encouraged him to see a doctor. The cause of the spark was not determined, but the physician who examined him found two large lumps on his thyroid gland, which is found in the neck.
The lumps proved to be cancerous and were removed in 2005, Monezis said.
Monezis' second encounter with cancer occurred when blood tests showed levels of prostate-antigen in his blood were erratic. A high level of prostate-antigen, a protein found in the prostate gland, is a strong indicator of prostate cancer.
Monezis said he saw a urologist who said he wasn't concerned but after reading of a prostate surgeon in Wheeling, he decided to seek a second opinion from that specialist.
Following a rigorous examination, the doctor's diagnosis was cancer, and he underwent treatment with radiation that ended in 2007, Monezis said.
The participation of cancer survivors like Monezis has been a key element of Relays for Life held in 20 countries.
Secrist said this year's event will again start with the Survivor's Lap at 6:15 p.m. There also will be laps for caregivers at 6:45 p.m. and children at 7:15 p.m. and the traditional lighting of luminaria, in memory of loved ones who have died from cancer, at 10 p.m.
Organizers have planned a variety of activities and entertainment - including games for children and teens, a mystery auction and a firefighter challenge - to occupy participants when they aren't taking laps around the middle school's walking track.
It will be the second year the event will be held at Follansbee Middle School. Secrist said the move from Brooke High School was made because participants can be quickly moved indoors in the event of a storm or emergency.
The festivities will end with a balloon launch at midnight. In the past the relay ended in the early morning as a reminder that cancer doesn't rest.
Secrist said the earlier end time is an experiment to encourage more involvement.
He said one area where involvement has grown is in local schools, with all schools in Hancock and Brooke counties supporting the Relay for Life in various ways for the first time in the local event's 16-year history.
Representatives of both counties' school boards were on hand Tuesday to show their support.
Secrist presented a trophy to last year's top individual fundraiser, Makenzie Santoro, a Brooke High School junior who raised $18,000. He noted Santoro became involved as a fifth grader participating in Follansbee Middle School's mini relay, later helped him to coordinate the event and finally took it over as an eighth grader.
In the days leading to this year's relay, organizers and relay teams will be promoting it and raising funds in a variety of ways. They include decorating cities in the two counties with purple bows and banners through the Paint the Town Purple campaign and a parade June 3 in Follansbee.
On March 1 Bethany College students, staff and community members participated in the college's own Relay for Life, raising more than $7,000.
Secrist said there are many ways to get involved, from participating in a relay team to assisting with the local event's website. Those interested may call Secrist at (304) 919-3960 or the Hornicks at (304) 737-3748.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)