Raising cancer awareness

Hope and inspiration filled the air Saturday as the rain subsided and sunshine filled Elkins Town Square, where hundreds gathered for the Randolph County Relay For Life.

Purple ribbons, flowers, shirts and balloons filled the new venue for the event, dotted with more than 20 team tents filled with folks raising money, showing their support and raising awareness of cancer.

Nearly 100 cancer survivors, along with their caregivers and loved ones, were treated to a luncheon by Davis Memorial Hospital. Randolph County Relay For Life Survivor Chairperson Deanna Armentrout welcomed everyone to the event, which began at noon and ended at midnight.

“This sight brings everyone closer together and it does my heart good to see you here today,” she said with tears streaming down her face. “It does my life good to see you here. You bring us hope. You inspire us with your strength and courage.”

Survivor Jacob D’Angelo inspired many with words of wisdom about battling cancer.

“Know that when you are told you have cancer, that you can beat it,” D’Angelo said. “You will forget the bad and remember the good things and people that you encountered along your journey. Know you are on the road to recovery and focus on what lies ahead of you, not the past.

“While I was here today, I met someone,” D’Angelo said. “He said he had never met me before, but I had been on his church’s prayer list and he said he had prayed for me. I thanked him and told him it worked.”

D’Angelo thanked his wife for all she did, joking that he became her third child. He also acknowledged his friends who would not let him give up, forcing him to get off the couch and use his leg. He also thanked the doctors and staff who helped him through his journey.

“Trying to describe chemotherapy is like telling people you feel like you have the flu everyday,” D’Angelo said. “I remember taking my first steps without my crutches on April 28 and now, after that adventure two and a half years ago, I am cancer-free and wearing a survivor shirt.”

The emotional first lap of the Randolph County Relay for Life is the survivor’s lap – this year led by survivors Felicia Hendon and D’Angelo.

“I have been clear of cancer for four years now,” Hendon said. “I just had my check-up two weeks ago.”

Hendon said the Relay event is important for the fight against cancer and for the survivors.

“Everyone comes together and it’s great to see that there is hope,” she said. “You can see what everyone went through and what everyone did. They do this for us and it is wonderful.”

Hendon said she has asked for something special for Christmas this year.

“I want a brick at the Davis House,” she said. “I am just such a supporter of the Davis House, and this would make me happy. I work at the Tygart Valley Regional Jail, and we dress down on Fridays and donate the money to this worthy cause.”

Those attending the Randolph County Relay for Life could tour the Davis House and the Cancer Care Center during the day. The Davis House, on the campus of Davis Health Systems in Elkins, offers a home away from home for those traveling to the Cancer Care Center for treatment. Rooms are provided free of charge. The Davis House project was funded by the community.

Team tents at the Relay offered many activities for fundraising. Davis Revenue Raisers include employees from Davis Memorial Hospital. At the event, they are selling lemonade and offering a coin toss for the younger folks.

“This is important to us,” said Davis Revenue Raisers Chairwoman Vivian Shomo. “A lot of what the American Cancer Society does is education, awareness and transportation, and we want to support that effort. We are also all about the Davis House. We go for walks on breaks and at lunch, and it’s great to see it in use and to be able to wave to the folks staying there.”

The Elkins Woman’s Club manned a “Pineapple Express” tent, with a Hawaiian luau theme, where they sold jewelry and snacks.

“We have several members that are cancer survivors,” said Sandy Graham.

Graham said she was part of the very first Randolph County Relay for Life 20 years ago.

“At that time, the event was at the old high school,” Graham said. “I had just finished my treatments, and I was there. As I look around today, I am the only survivor from then at the event today.”

Judy Ritchie, chairwoman for the Randolph County Relay for Life, said she thought this year’s event went well.

“I love the new location at the Elkins Town Square,” Ritchie said. “I just love how close everything is here.”

As darkness covered the Randolph County Relay for Life, everyone gathered for the lighting of the luminaries, each in memory of a loved one lost to cancer.

Ritchie said the event is a great opportunity to provide cancer education throughout the day as well as presentations about various treatments and testimonies from survivors. Ritchie also explained that the walk is a celebration for the chapter’s hard work all year long.

“It’s a day of free entertainment and local company,” she said. “It’s sort of our grand finale after a year’s worth of fundraising.”

It also is a celebration of the enduring fight against cancer, as the American Cancer Society celebrates its 100th anniversary.

“It’s definitely been a big year for us,” Ritchie added.