Last updated: June 21. 2014 11:14PM - 1766 Views
By Geri Gibbons Times Leader Correspondent

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WILKES-BARRE TWP. — The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, which began Saturday, was more than an opportunity to raise funds for cancer research and support programs.

It was a chance to celebrate the spirit and resiliency of cancer survivors and their families while paying tribute to those who have lost their battle with the disease.

“Twenty-five years ago people were even afraid to say the word cancer,” said Toni Bartoletti. “Because of the efforts of the American Cancer Society, we have been able to raise awareness and educate people about resources available to them.”

Bartoletti was co-captain of one of 31 teams that participated in the 24-hour walk at King’s College Betzler’s Fields. In total, over 300 people participated in the event.

Bartoletti’s team was called “Star Survivors” and was comprised solely of individuals who had successfully battled cancer.

In addition to the relay, the event, which began at 10 a.m. Saturday, included a luminary candlelight service and a camp-out.

Many participants were seasoned athletes, but most simply were offering their time and energy to raise money to beat cancer.

Each team and each member had a unique story to tell.

Dorothy Stucker, who was diagnosed with cancer 25 years ago, said each year brings the opportunity to meet new people and to solidify a spirit of unity among survivors.

“At the end of the day, we are all a big family with a common goals,” said Russell Keeler, a Relay for Life committee member.

Event chairperson Sara Klinges said money raised at the event would be used for area programs as well as research.

This theme of this year’s event, “Until We Finish the Fight,” was reflected in the tenacity and commitment of participants.

Susan Halbasch, who participated as a part of team Metro Mission, said participants were walking for the entire 24 hours as a reminder that “cancer never sleeps.”

“Once diagnosed, the battled is constant,” said Halbasch. “The commitment to research and support has to be equally consistent.”

Roby Wicht, who lost his wife Erin to the disease, helped organize Erin’s Dreamers as a tribute to her valiant fight.

The team donned unique green T-shirts with a vampire and whale logo in memory of Erin’s love for whales and for vampires. The group also sold a variety of barbecue items and baked goods.

In addition to the relay itself, there were other many fundraising activities.

Bill Klaips, raising money in memory of his wife Christine, ran a miniature golf game, in addition to participating in the relay. Klaips actively raises funds for the American Cancer Society throughout the year and credits friends and family who are willing to generously help.

Team Eye Doc sold beads for simple necklaces that enabled participants to keep track of laps walked. Different color beads were available indicating support for different types of cancer.

The event concludes today at 10 a.m.

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