By Travis LeFevre
The Relay For Life of Greater Niagara will take place Saturday, June 2, at Reservoir State Park.
Now in its 21st year, the Relay used to be split between Niagara Falls and Lewiston-Porter. However, the two events merged at Reservoir State Park, and have remained there for the past five years.
Jason Przepiora and Kaye Lodick, co-chairs of Relay For Life, said this is a free event that welcomes everyone from the Lewiston-Niagara area.
This year's event, "Re-Lei For Life," will have a Hawaiian theme and will have two honorary survivors: Cheryl Zabel, a two-time breast cancer survivor; and Saralyn Lash, the ceremonies chair for the Relay located in Wayne County, Ohio, and a 24-year survivor of endometrial cancer.
"For me, it was a part of healing after cancer," Lash said. "The people are amazing. It is a visible display of how a community comes together to (not only) support survivors, but to fight back against cancer."
Lash has been relaying for 20 years, with this year being her first time at Greater Niagara. She is a member of the Nationwide Relay Leadership Team, which has members from all over the country.
The Relay officially kicks off at noon with the opening ceremony, celebrating the survivors in attendance. From then on, there will be a music performance from Me & The Boys, a kickball tournament, a frozen T-shirt contest and a caregiver ceremony featuring Roswell Park's senior vice president of basic science, Andrei Gudkov, Ph.D., DSci. Another musical performance from Roadtrip will follow.
Later in the afternoon, Patti's Cut Above will take hair donations for Pantene Beautiful Lengths at 4 p.m. to make wigs for survivors. To ensure the durability of the wigs, donors must have hair with a minimum of 8 inches in length with no more than a few strands of gray hair. Hair that has been bleached, permanently colored or chemically treated will not be used. The wigs that are made from donated hair are then donated to Mary's Wig Room at 101 John James Audubon Parkway, Amherst.
The evening will kick off with the Fight Back Against Cancer Ceremony, and performances from the McCarthy School of Irish Dance and James Robert Kibby. At 9 p.m., the Luminaria Ceremony begins. The path of Luminaria bags that people purchased and customized are lit to honor and memorialize those who've died from cancer.
"This is a very moving ceremony where we remember those that have finished their earthly battle with cancer," committee member Cheryl Martin said.
The money raised at the Relay will go toward the American Cancer Society's funding of cancer research, as well as other services that help survivors: Road to Recovery, Look Good Feel Better, Patient Navigation, Patient Lodging Programs and Mary's Wig Room.
Other resources available to survivors through the American Cancer Society include the National Cancer Information Center, a 24/7, multilingual hotline for survivors that provides advice for those who are unsure with what to do in specific scenarios regarding a survivor. This line can be accessed at 1-800-227-2345.
Reach to Recovery pairs a diagnosed breast cancer survivor with someone who has already fought with cancer to provide help and encouragement.
"I am a firm believer that you can survive anything as long as you have hope," Lash said. "I also advise them, find someone in your life who can talk to you about nothing, because it brings a bit of normalcy into what's otherwise an all-continuing life fight."
More information on the Relay For Life of Greater Niagara can be found on its Facebook page.