Pottstown Relay for Life returns for 20th year

Relay for Life Grand Marshal Russ Oister walks with his family in the first lap of the relay. The event kicked off Saturday and continued through the night into Sunday morning.
Relay for Life Grand Marshal Russ Oister walks with his family in the first lap of the relay. The event kicked off Saturday and continued through the night into Sunday morning. Marian Dennis — Digital First Media
Participants holds up numbers indicating the dollars raised by Relay for Life Pottstown. The relay is in its 20th year and this year’s theme is “Winning the Game Against Cancer.”
Participants holds up numbers indicating the dollars raised by Relay for Life Pottstown. The relay is in its 20th year and this year’s theme is “Winning the Game Against Cancer.” Marian Dennis — Digital First Media

POTTSTOWN >> The battle with cancer, while filled with many moments of darkness, can have its brighter spots.

At the Pottstown Relay for Life Saturday, anyone in attendance could have told you about those ups and downs.

As participants shuffled onto the track at Pottsgrove High School underneath gray skies Saturday morning, tents and signs were being erected with words like “hope.” For many at the event, the Relay is a time for not only raising money for cancer research but also to celebrate their or a loved one’s success in the battle.

“I started back in 1999 when I was a student at St. Al’s. In 2011 we started a team for my husband who had just been diagnosed with stage 4 testicular cancer. So we started a team with family and friends. So that’s why we come,” said Emily Murphy, one of the event leaders.

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The event, which is in its 20th year for Pottstown, consists of several laps around the track at Pottsgrove High School where many participants camp overnight and enjoy various activities including live music, games and more. The objective of the relay is to raise money for cancer research through sponsored teams that walk around the track at designated times. Each team has a member walking on the track at all times for the 24 hour duration in order to signify that cancer never sleeps. This year’s theme for Pottstown was “Winning the Game Against Cancer.”

The opening ceremonies began at 10 a.m. where several speakers were introduced including the grand marshals who would lead the initial lap. This year’s grand marshals were Russ Oister and Garrett Adams, 7, both cancer survivors. Adams had been diagnosed at 27 months old with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He is now happy and healthy and participating in the survivor walk.

Oister was diagnosed with a lymphocyte predominant non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1996. After years of rebuilding from his diagnosis, Oister was released from care just before the Relay for Life 2014, at which time he could only walk a few steps at a time. With determination to walk the survivor lap that year, Oister continued to walk a little more each day in the 40 days leading up to the relay. He made the lap and continues to do so each year.

Oister and Adams weren’t the only ones with success stories either. Many of the participants came Saturday to celebrate their own successes and to remind themselves that they weren’t struggling alone. As survivors took their first lap around the track to meet their caregivers on the other side, cloudy skies made way for sun and participants started off the hours-long event with celebratory cake.

“I’m celebrating every single day of my life,” said Mae Hanna of Pottstown, a breast cancer survivor. “Every single day is just another miracle to all of us. And you see all of us who are going through the same thing and here we are. We are a success story and that’s why we’re here.”

Hanna added that although she is happy to be part of the relay, the most difficult part for her is always the survivor walk.

“It’s kind of a happy thing to do but you kind of remember what you went through and you look around at all the people who have been through as much as we did to survive. I think it’s a happy time but you can’t help but have flashbacks and think back. But we know we can make it because here we all are,” said Hanna.

Hanna was standing with Eloise Bean of Spring City, another breast cancer survivor who came for similar reasons.

“I come every year to celebrate another year and to support those who also are going through that,” said Bean as she teared up. “The luminary walk, with the bagpipes at night, is really meaningful. Every luminary represents someone who survived, someone who died or someone who is going through cancer so all of those luminaries are just overwhelming when you see it.”

Saturday’s events continued throughout the day and will conclude on Sunday at 8 a.m. Themed laps during the relay included the caregivers lap, the survivors lap, the line dance lap, the silent lap, pajama party lap and the finish the fight lap.

So far, the Relay for Life Pottstown has raised $170,747.90 for cancer research.

To learn more about the American Cancer Society or to donate visit www.cancer.org.