STEUBENVILLE - Deb Kovach, chairman of the 16th-annual Steubenville Area Relay for Life sponsored by the Jefferson County Unit of the American Cancer Society, is a mix of emotions as the ACS signature event unfolds yet again come Friday at 6 p.m. at the Robert Kettlewell Memorial Stadium at Indian Creek High School in Wintersville.
"I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm semi-confident about reaching our goal. I'm amazed when I contact our vendors. Everybody is still willing to make that donation just like they've made in the past. Everybody has cautioned us about the economy and that people are cutting back, but locally I haven't seen a whole lot of that. Everybody I've spoken with in recent weeks and days is kicking in like they always have, so that's a good thing," Kovach said in the moments before the final committee and team captains meeting began last week.
But as the gathering got under way, Kovach also expressed sadness.
"I can't begin the meeting without acknowledging the great loss that the Relay for Life community and family has experienced with the passing of Patti Malloy," Kovach said of the 43-year-old Wintersville woman whose battle with cancer ended with her death May 26.
"For those of you who didn't get to know Patti very well, Patti was not only a very, very integral part of Relay for Life by virtue of being a cancer survivor, but she was also our patient navigator at the (Tony) Teramana Cancer Center, so for those of you who may have sought treatment or received a cancer diagnosis, you might have crossed paths with Patti," Kovach said.
Malloy served as an ACS board member, volunteer for Relay for Life and longtime volunteer for the ACS.
"Personally, it hit me very hard, and I know that many of you even harder, those of you who loved her and knew her longer and more dearly than I did but I don't know anybody who was a better role model of a cancer survivor. She carried her cancer with dignity, with grace," Kovach said of Malloy's perseverance and move-forward attitude.
"This relay will never forget Patti Malloy," Kovach said before asking relay participants at the meeting to bow their heads in a moment of silence in her honor.
"That's a tough meeting, and I never want to start a meeting again like that so that's why we're here. We're all here for research," Kovach said as she conducted the meeting with Melissa Krinock, ACS staff partner.
The theme for this year's relay is "Imagine A World with More Birthdays," an event that hopes to raise $123,000 for cancer research, patient services, advocacy and education.
The relay kicks off at 6 p.m. with opening ceremonies, followed by cancer survivors walking the opening lap, then being treated to a reception provided by Zalenski's of Wintersville and being eligible for a drawing for a $250 Kroger gift card.
Before the relay is over at noon Saturday, more than 50 teams made up of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, churches, businesses and service organizations will have participated in walking laps but also in enjoying relay activities. (See event schedule on page ..)
The relay includes a luminaria ceremony at 10 p.m. Friday with luminaries purchased for a $10 donation in honor or in memory of a loved one's battle with cancer.
There are a variety of on-site fundraisers, food and live entertainment.
Relay officials emphasized the public is welcome to attend the relay, patronize on-site fundraisers and enjoy the event.
Kovach said the relay still wrestles with a kind of identity crisis, that people think it's a race or an athletic event.
"Even after all these years and all the media attention we've been afforded, people are still just coming to recognize what the relay is, and maybe it's because someone in their family or someone close to them has received that diagnosis or maybe up to this point it's just been off on the back burner but all of a sudden it comes to the forefront when your family member or your loved one is diagnosed."
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.