Students kick off buildup to Relay for Life

LOWELL – On most days, you wouldn’t be able to talk kindergartener Holtyn Hill into wearing pink.

But on Thursday he sported a T-shirt that labeled his grandmother a hero in pink letters “’cause it was for cancer,” he said.

Holtyn and his classmates in kindergarten through sixth-grade participated Thursday in Lowell Elementary’s Relay Recess, one of several school events planned in the coming weeks leading up to the Washington County Relay for Life on May 17.

Hundreds of residents will gather that evening in Belpre’s Civitan Park for an all-night celebration of cancer survivors and the resolve to fight the disease, in addition to raising money for the American Cancer Society for patient services and research toward a cure.

Holtyn’s grandmother, Karen Doan, joined other community members and school employees in a survivors lap around the playground and field behind the school to start the festivities.

“It’s just special because I had to explain to him … that I had a germ called cancer, for his level, and the doctor would take care of it,” said Doan, 60, of Lowell. “And it helped him understand.”

Doan was diagnosed with cancer in March, had surgery and is waiting to start additional treatment.

As she and other survivors circled the field, Lowell students applauded them. Some offered high fives and shouts of encouragement to their family members and teachers.

Sixth-grader Kasey Buchanan said she enjoys the activity, which the school has held the last four years.

“I think it’s pretty nice,” she said. “We raise money … and it goes to the fight against cancer and to find a cure for it.”

As of Thursday, Lowell students had collected more than $1,350 for the county Relay. Kindergartener Parker Yoho was the top fund-raiser, with $411, which earned him an insulated Relay lunch bag.

“Our family’s so supportive, and friends. … We just mentioned to them they were doing a Relay and they just freely gave,” said Parker’s mother, Konnie, a one-year breast cancer survivor. “Family and friends are a great support when you’re going through cancer.”

Cheryll Harra has coordinated the school Relay events, called Mini Relays prior to this year, for seven years. In addition to honoring survivors and raising money, the event included education on cancer-prevention topics like sun safety, nutrition and avoiding tobacco.

“We would rather provide education to you now than services to you later,” Harra told students.

Washington Elementary in Marietta is holding its first Relay event next week. School staff members have fielded a Relay team the last three years and students have participated in those fundraisers, said Sally Latture, an intervention specialist at the school and member of the county Relay committee.

In addition to the Relay Recess and prevention messages, the team is offering other incentives for kids to raise money for the Relay. Participants will be entered into a drawing, with one winner on May 15 getting to shave Principal Scott Kratche’s beard and mustache and another getting to cut a teacher’s hair to donate it to Locks of Love, which provides wigs to children who have lost their hair due to medical issues.

And “our custodian is allowing three students to throw a pie in her face,” Latture said.

Washington’s Relay activities officially kicked off earlier this week, with Marietta resident Desni Crock, 40, and her daughter, 6-year-old cancer survivor, Bridget, speaking to students. They’re doing the same today at Harmar Elementary.

Crock said it helps to bring Bridget along “so they can see firsthand that, first of all, cancer doesn’t necessarily mean a death sentence, and second, it does affect kids their age.”

Crock participated in Relay for Life before Bridget’s diagnosis at age 2 with pleuropulmonary blastoma.

“I used to Relay so that my kids didn’t have to have cancer scare after cancer scare like I had,” she said.

Both Bridget and her younger sister, Anna, possess the genetic mutation that can cause the rare form of cancer Bridget had, meaning their children will have a 50/50 chance of having the gene as well.

Knowing that, Crock said she Relays now “so that they don’t have to watch their children go through the same thing.”

The theme for this year’s Relay is “Superheroes: Join the Fight for the Cure.” So far, 64 teams are signed up, already matching last year’s total, said Chad Gardner, income development representative for the American Cancer Society.

This year’s goal is for 68 teams to raise $179,000.

Other community members can participate, even if they’re not part of a team.

“Teams do fundraisers at their site; they sell everything from food to T-shirts and anything you can think of,” Gardner said.

There will be educational material in the Survivors Tent, musical entertainment and, on Saturday morning, inflatables.

Lowell resident Edna Schau, 67, said she enjoys meeting and talking with other survivors and people dealing with cancer diagnoses.

“I tell them, ‘don’t give up and don’t dwell on it,'” she said. When she was diagnosed, “I thought, ‘I’m not doing that, because I want to watch grandchildren grow up and graduate.'”

Schau was diagnosed in 2001 with melanoma, and doctors gave her six months to a year to live. Twelve years later, she’s in remission and it’s been six years since she underwent chemo- and radiation therapy.

She’s now enjoying her seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren and looking forward to two more on the way.