The Green community came together to honor cancer suvivors, remember those who lost the battle and fight back by raising funds for American Cancer Society research and education initiatives.
"This will be my first Father's Day without my father."
Ohio Lieutenant Gov. Mary Taylor spoke those words as one of the guest speaker sat the opening ceremonies of the 11th annual Relay For Life in Green on June 14-15, but her words could have applied to more than a few of those assembled for the event to raise awareness and support for the fight against cancer.
As she closed her speech, Taylor told those in attendance to enjoy their lives and live a life they are proud of. "Live in a way that you know your parents would have wanted you to live," Taylor said. "Someday Jennifer (Ringer) will not be organizing and event like this because it will no longer be necessary. That will be a great day."
Community members, friends and families came out to Akron General Medical Center's Green campus for the event on a sun-soaked spring evening. The ceremonial first lap around the course was taken by cancer survivors escorted by members of the Ohio Legends football team. It was an event not only to raise awareness about the disease, but also funds to help in the fight against cancer and in finding a cure. More than 20 teams participated in the event.
A SURVIVOR'S STORY
"I have been lucky, God is watching over me," said Green resident Jennifer Kieke.
She is a 32-year survivor and one of the longest survivors at the event. Kieke was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12 and still vividly recalls how her story unfolded.
"I could not see the blackboard or read the homework paper in front of me," Kieke recalled. A friend would get her on the bus every day to get home. Eventually, she explained, her parents found out of what was going on and took her to an eye doctor. He told them it was just a phase, but they took her to the Mayo Clinic, where doctors discovered a tumor on her pituitary gland.
"The next thing I knew I was in the hospital," Kieke said. She remembers waking up from surgery and being able to read the milk carton in front of her. She spent her summer having radiation and had to wear a wig to school, which led to teasing from classmates, some of whom would pull the wig off.
Her Relay for Life team was made up mostly church members from the Greensburg Church of God. It included her husband Scott and mother-in-law Wanda. The family has been affected by cancer multiple times, having lost Scott's father and Jennifer's mother and father to the disease.
LEADING THE CHARGE
Cancer survivor Jennifer Ringer returned as chairwoman for this year's event. Ringer is a two-time cancer survivor, having survived ovarian cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma. She has been cancer-free for 10 years. She introduced Mayor Dick Norton, who expressed appreciation for the community spirit with which Green responds to issues such as cancer awareness.
Page 2 of 3 - "You are really not a community without people who care. In Green we have so much empathy, understanding and we care about our neighbors and each other," Norton said. "I doubt there is anybody in Green or other communities that don't know someone affected by cancer. I lost a sister at age 53 and I have a sister-in-law who is a 20 year survivor of breast cancer."
The event honors those who have survived and died from the disease and raises awareness of cancer and the fight against it and the fight to cure it. Teams of walkers walk the track throughout the entire event, luminaries are lit after dark in what Ringer called was "a moving time without a dry eye."
Taylor, a Springfield graduate and resident of Green, was the featured speaker at the relay and told the story of the loss of her father to the disease.
"We all have our own stories and have had to face cancer at some point. I was in the room with him (dad) when he was diagnosed. We know how complicated this disease is, which is what makes it so hard to solve," Taylor said.
Her father was told he had 6 to 9 months to live. "You are never prepared to hear it is cancer. He looked at me and said, "It has not been long enough," Taylor said. She did not know what to say, but said there never is enough time. "No matter how short or long our lives are, we will always feel there is more we could have done," Taylor added.
Taylor said she is a faithful person and knows her dad is in a better place. "I still feel like a kid and I was not ready for my dad to go. It is events like this that gives us hope. Tonight, as you walk, remember those who have gone before us, your loved ones, your friends, or if you are a cancer survivor, know there is hope," Taylor added.
POINT OF ORIGIN
For the Green Relay For Life, it all began 11 years ago when Jeanne Greco, human resources manager for the city, received a call from the American Cancer Society asking if the city would host a relay event.
Eleven years later, Greco said she has a passion for this cause.
"Our survivors are our inspiration. You inspire us to continue to do these events and continue to raise money. For those team captains that have volunteered so much of your time, you are our heroes," Greco said. She added that for those who have lost family and friends, "They are our angels."
The Legends gave all of the survivors tickets for their June 15 game and honored the survivors who attended.
The 8 Count Dance Studio students formed a reception line and gave the survivors chocolate covered pretzels as they entered a special reception following the opening lap of the event.
Page 3 of 3 -