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20th annual McKeesport Relay For Life an emotional time for all

| Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, 4:01 a.m.

This weekend was an emotional time for Elizabeth resident Cissy McLay.

Twenty-three of her family and friends walked the bus loop in front of McKeesport Area High School on Saturday and Sunday as part of the 20th annual Relay For Life of McKeesport.

They walked with the Barry Brigade, a team formed in memory of McLay's father, Charles Barry of Pleasant Hills who died of lung cancer in December 2013 at age 75.

“My dad would think this is funny because nobody's really an exerciser or a walker,” McLay said. “Somebody's been walking all day. I had some people from work join me and friends.”

McLay said it was her first time participating in Relay, and she found it “heart-wrenching.”

“It's just a moment to think of my dad. I think he'd be proud of us all being here for him,” she said. “People have really put a lot of effort into this program.”

Joan Striegel, 79, of Whitehall participated in each Relay in McKeesport since its inception. Her team, Striegel Striders, had 10 members this time around.

“This has become much larger and more organized than we ever thought it would be,” Striegel said.

Striegel, a 27-year breast cancer survivor, said she was involved with the American Cancer Society before Relay started in the Pittsburgh area.

“I wanted to get involved with giving back what people gave to me,” Striegel said. “I was a nurse at McKeesport Hospital and I felt like I knew about cancer, but when it happens to you it's different.”

American Cancer Society Relay for Life specialist Kati Hartwig said This year's theme, “The Power of Purple,” signifies the changes relay participants have helped bring about over the past 20 years.

Fundraising for Relay For Life is a year-round effort, from September to the end of August. McKeesport's goal for the 2013-2014 season is $82,000.

Online chairman Paul Ruhl said more than $50,000 was raised prior to Saturday.

There were 17 teams and 220 participants. Relay was organized by at least eight committees.

“It looks great,” Ruhl said. “The weather's wonderful. We saw some new faces. That's always encouraging.”

The big fundraiser is the annual Hope Auction. More than 80 baskets were raffled.

More than 500 luminarias were lit in memory of those lost to cancer, and in support of survivors. Their names were read during a somber ceremony.

“Cancer is expected to take the lives of over half a million people in the United States this year alone,” Ruhl said. “These luminaria represents the light of hope that lives in the hearts of all of us, the hope that a cure will be discovered as a result of the detailed work of the medical professionals, made possible through funds generated by events such as the McKeesport Relay for Life.”

Luminaria cochair Darla Losteter said it took her months just to select the songs for the ceremony. They were “I Won't Let Go” by Rascal Flatts, “Save a Place For Me” by Matthew West, and “Let It Be” by Vazquez Sounds.

“They touch your hearts,” Losteter said. “I'll drive and listen to them over and over. They have meaning to me. They remind me of what people are going through, the people we've lost and the people who are suffering. I think there's a lot of emotion (with the ceremony). People sit on the side here for hours and wait for (luminaria) to be lit.”

Losteter has been involved with Relay the past 10 years for one reason.

“I want a cure,” she said. “I've seen people suffer. I have close family members and friends. I lost two this year.”

There was a survivor reception, a Fight Back ceremony, tent judging, demonstrations by the McKeesport Area High School Robotics Club, a Miss Relay pageant and various themed laps.

Donations to Relay still are being accepted online at www.relayforlife.org/pamckeesport.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965 or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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