The Times West Virginian

May 17, 2014

Mannington Relay for Life: ‘Hold on to hope’

Strong support for cancer survivors and their caregivers

By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian

MANNINGTON — Much of Mannington came out Friday evening to show their support for the cancer survivors and caregivers in their community, with Mannington’s fourth annual Relay for Life.

The event began at 6 p.m. Friday, and was scheduled to continue until 6 a.m. this morning.

For the second year in a row, it was held in Hough Park. Because of Thursday’s rain, most of the activities had to be held in the open area under the gymnasium.

Stephanie Teets, chairperson for this year’s Relay for Life, said work for the event began months ago, in October of last year. Teams were formed, and fundraising events were held by these teams throughout the winter and spring, including lunch with Santa Claus, and fundraisers around Valentine’s Day and Easter.

“So we work all year long, but the biggest part is this night,” Teets said.

Their goal for the year is to raise $35,000 for the American Cancer Society. By Wednesday, they had already raised $13,000. After this weekend’s relay, that number will likely rise significantly.

“We tend to bring a lot of money the night of the relay,” Teets said.

The opening ceremony for the relay began at 6 p.m. Friday. Each year, Mannington’s Relay for Life has a Survivor of the Year. Both the 2013 and 2014 Survivor of the Year spoke at the ceremony.

Regina Stephens was the 2013 Survivor of the Year. She was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago today.

“I was very fortunate. It was a small tumor, and there were no lymph nodes involved, so I had a very good recovery prognosis,” Stephens said.

A very important part of her recovery was the Sharing and Caring group.

“They helped me through all of that. They watched me cry all the time, encouraged me, and became my friends,” Stephens said.

Stephens was the chairperson of the first Relay for Life in Mannington in 2011. She has since moved to Ohio, but came back for this year’s relay.

“I wouldn’t have missed coming back for this and seeing all of my friends again,” Stephens said. “It just brings everyone together.”

This year’s survivor of the year is Rhonda Russell, who was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in March of 2013.

“I have been fighting,” Russell said. “I’ve had surgeries, and I’ve had two children and a mom to take care of in the last year. So it’s been challenging.”

Russell has 8-year-old twin daughters, Gracie and Bailie, who came to the relay in bright-colored tutus to show their mom their support.

At 6:30 p.m., the Survivor Walk was held. Survivors were invited to walk to meet their family members, caregivers and supporters across the field at the scoreboard. Their supporters clapped and cheered as they came to the end of their walk.

Then they all walked back, together, many holding hands as they reached the end of the walk, under the purple balloons.

Russell said participating in the relay has been a good experience.

“It’s encouraging,” Russell said.

During Russell’s speech at the opening ceremony, she talked about her fight.

“I never considered myself a fighter until I looked into the eyes of my two daughters, who were depending on me to be their mom,” Russell said.

“Cancer can take my hair, my breasts, my ovaries, and even my life. But one thing cancer cannot take is my faith in God and my fight,” Russell said. “Remember, even with a late diagnosis of cancer, you should hold on to hope.”

After the Survivor Walk, survivors and their caretakers were invited to line up for a free food buffet. The free food buffet was open to anyone who attended the Mannington Relay for Life.

“But our survivors and their caretakers get to go first,” Teets said.

Teams at the relay were encouraged to have individuals walk the track at the event throughout the evening, and into the night, until the closing ceremony at 6 a.m. this morning.

The teams also sold food and held raffles and giveaways throughout the night to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Stage entertainment was provided until midnight.

At 9 p.m., luminaria bags were given out, with candles inside. A ceremony was held to honor loved ones who had passed on.

At 10 p.m., Vera Bradley Helen Efaw basket bingo was held. It was $20 per game, and 21 games were played. While they always hold a bingo event each year, this is the first year bingo was played during the Relay for Life event.

“We just thought we’d have something in the evening to keep people here, keep them occupied, and make them happy,” Jackie Mullenax, who organized the bingo, said.

Teets said Marion County Parks and Recreation, the Mannington City Council and the mayor have been a great help in making everything go smoothly.

Major sponsors included the Marion County Rescue Squad, Live Mic Entertainment (donating DJ services) and the Marion County Commission.

Stephens said she loves going to the Relay for Life in Mannington each year.

“I hope they are able to keep it going for many years,” Stephens said.

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.