NILES - Hundreds of walkers came out to show their support for those battling cancer and for cancer survivors at the Niles Relay For Life, which marked first of five Relay For Life events planned this spring for Trumbull County.
The Niles Relay was held last weekend at the Mayor Ralph Infante Wellness Center.
The next Relay is Friday and Saturday in downtown Warren, followed by the Liberty Relay May 14 and 15, Cortland Relay on June 4 and 5 and Lordstown/ Newton Falls Relay on June 11 and 12. Austintown in Mahoning County will hold their Relay June 4 and 5.
The Niles Times / R. Michael Semple
The Niles Relay for Life, which was held April 30 and May 1 at the Mayor Ralph Infante Wellness Center, included the survivor’s lap, which kicked off the 24-hour event. Cancer survivors and supporters traveled around the indoor track to lead the start of this year’s first Relay event in Trumbull County.
The Mayor Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center was filled to capacity last weekend with the usual fanfare that accompanies the annual Relay for Life.
Events included the Survivors Lap, the Ms. Relay Contest, campsites decorated with various themes, games, face painting and food.
New at the event was a booth promoting support for cancer caregivers.
Pam Marshall-Wilson, manager of community events for the American Cancer Society Ohio Division, said a cancer caregiver/resource support group is in the process of being formed and made its debut at the Niles Relay. The group will serve as a place to get information, education and suggestions about being a caregiver and also will enable caregivers to share their stories about the daily struggle of caring for a loved one with cancer.
"Being a caregiver can be overwhelming. In most cases, a single individual carries most of the burden, and that person is usually a family member - either a child, a parent or a spouse," Marshall-Wilson said.
The group still is seeking members and has not yet determined its meeting times or places. It has signup cards available at the different Relay caregivers tents.
"There will be a caregivers tent at every area Relay. Caregivers need support, too, and we want them to know they have a place at the Relay For Life even if their loved one dies," Marshall-Wilson said.
Founder Joyce Aleshire of Niles said there has always been a need for a caregiver support group.
"Caregivers accompany patients on their journey," she said.
Aleshire knows that journey all too well.
Her husband, J.W., was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 1982. He is captain of his RTI team and participates in the Survivors Lap.
Aleshire's mother, Marion Rasher, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 1992 and she died a year later. In March, her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and will have a lumpectomy May 13 in Cleveland.
"Her prognosis is very encouraging," Aleshire said.
She said a caregiver's life becomes about taking their loved one to treatment and to doctor's appointments while still juggling work and family obligations.
"You ask yourself, 'When will I have time for me?' That is when the guilt kicks in. Because you think you are being selfish. After all, your loved one is fighting for their life. But you need a break too. Being a caregiver is very stressful," Aleshire said.
She said having a sense of normalcy is good for both the patient and the caregiver.
"I believe in faith, family and friends. That's what gets you through. Oh, and a sense of humor," Aleshire said.
Marshall-Wilson said there were 18 campsites this year, but a total of 34 teams, including associate teams, participated.
Participating for the first time at the Niles Relay for Life is Amazing Adventures Daycare in Niles, which picked the theme "Swinging Through the Jungle for a Cure."
Co-captain Jessica Heilman of Niles said many of their 30 or so team members have been touched by cancer in some way. She said she has attended the Relay For Life for several years and decided to create her own team this year.
The team consists of four daycare employees, family members, friends and daycare members. The team is selling baked goods, snacks and raffle tickets to raise money toward its $1,000 goal.