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Grosse Pointe Woods

March 13, 2013

Relay for Life goes to bat for cancer survivors, loved ones

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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Relay for Life goes to bat for cancer survivors, loved ones
During a kickoff event Feb. 27 in Grosse Pointe Woods, Detroit Tigers mascot PAWS poses with Christine Bellew, who, along with younger sister Rebecca, will be taking part in this year’s American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Grosse Pointe in honor of their mother, who has battled cancer several times.

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — This year, local residents are invited — in the words of American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Grosse Pointe Vice Chair Colleen Hasten — to “get creative” in the battle against cancer.

The ninth annual Grosse Pointe version of the ACS fundraiser takes place May 11-12 at Lakefront Park in Grosse Pointe Woods. A 24-hour-long event, it starts and ends at 10 a.m. on those two days. During a kickoff event Feb. 27 at the Woods Community Center, Team D Chair Michelle Mitchell said, this year, the Grosse Pointe relay is using a baseball theme, Take Me Out to Relay.

The room at the community center was decked out for the occasion, with centerpieces made out of baseball-filled vases topped by orange and blue balloons, pitcher’s mound-shaped placemats and more baseball-oriented touches. Detroit Tigers mascot PAWS was on hand to show moral support, sign autographs and pose for pictures, and the big cat is expected to return for relay weekend.

Relay is about “celebrating the lives of cancer survivors everywhere,” said Mitchell of the event, whose participants include one out of every 100 Americans, as well as people in more than 20 countries around the globe.

“Tonight, we want to focus on how we can dream big, hope big and relay big,” Mitchell told several dozen relay participants and team captains.

Last year, Hasten said the Grosse Pointe relay celebrated the lives of 45 cancer survivors, included the participation of more than 400 local residents and 26 relay teams, and raised $82,177 for cancer research, education, advocacy efforts and patient service programs. Relay for Life is the top source of donations for the ACS, said Stephanie Cosmas, an ACS community representative.

“These funds translate into lifesaving cancer breakthroughs and (treatments),” she said. In addition, the ACS and its volunteers provide services such as round-trip transportation to treatment appointments.

“We help guide cancer patients and caregivers through every option,” Cosmas said. “It’s all because of volunteers like you that the ACS is able to (continue) its mission.”

For the many cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones — along with those who’ve lost someone to cancer — this event has profound personal significance.

Colleen Hasten’s mom, Judy Hasten, was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer in 2003 and a doctor told her she’d be lucky to live to that Christmas, but after major surgery and treatments, she was told she was cancer-free in February 2004.

“I’ve celebrated (many) Christmases since then, and I plan on continuing to celebrate Christmas,” she said. “There is hope for all cancer patients to become cancer survivors, and that’s what Relay for Life is all about.”

Christine and Rebecca Bellew emotionally recounted caring as children and teens for their mother during her numerous bouts with cancer. Christine Bellew fought tears as she recalled her mother’s third diagnosis, this time with Stage 4 breast cancer, last year, and her mother’s brave battle yet again, with her devoted daughters at her side.

“It didn’t really beat her, because she beat it,” Christine Bellew said. “My mom is my everything, and I would do anything and everything to make sure it doesn’t come back again.”

Younger sister Rebecca Bellew also succumbed to emotion, admitting that it was hard for her to be away from her mom, even for short periods.

“I love the sense of being able to help my mom the way she always helped me,” she said, choking back tears. “My mom is a survivor, and she will never give up hope.”

Cancer’s widespread impact is evident — those who’ve never known a person who’s battled or died from cancer are, sadly, the exception, not the rule. But Relay for Life is an uplifting experience, full of love and support, and that’s one of the reasons people return each year to take part.

“Relay is full of special moments,” said Caroline Forster, a Team D committee member. “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll enjoy every moment.”

A few community leaders were on hand to show their support for the relay kickoff, which is again expected to draw hundreds of participants.

“I’m glad to participate in Relay for Life,” Woods City Council member Arthur Bryant said. “It brings a lot of community participants together for a very important cause for all of us, and that is fighting cancer.”

Relay for Life of Grosse Pointe has used the Woods park for the last several years.

“We are extremely pleased to host the 2013 Relay for Life event at Lakefront Park,” Woods City Council member Todd McConaghy said by email after the kickoff. “The city of Grosse Pointe Woods honors the Relay for Life participants in their celebration of the lives of those afflicted with cancer. The residents of Grosse Pointe Woods are known for their generosity and will be out in full force to support this important cause.”

The ACS is marking its 100th birthday this year, and relay participants are marking this milestone by coming up with ways to stamp out cancer for good.

“Fighting cancer involves finding a little faith in the roughest of circumstances,” Ceremonies Chair Pam Burke said. “In this battle to fight cancer, we will never back down.”

At press time, participants, sponsors and donors were still being sought for this year’s event.

To participate, donate or for more information, visit www.relayforlife.org/GrossePointeMI or contact Stephanie Cosmas of the ACS at (248) 663-3408 or stephanie.cosmas@cancer.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.