Armstrong schools involved in Relay Recess to fight cancer

| Monday, May 7, 2012, 8:20 p.m.

Sydney Brison is almost entirely smiles.

Standing at the front of a large pack of fellow kindergartners at Lenape Elementary, she's got one hand wrapped around a bouquet of flowers topped with a giant lollipop and the other holding up one end of a banner commemorating Monday's special event.

The American Cancer Society's "Relay Recess" is a program geared to helping kids stay on a lifelong path to healthy living through physical activity, good nutrition, sun safety and tobacco prevention. Like a miniature version of the organization's popular Relay For Life, students donate a dollar and walk around their school campus.

Six of Armstrong School District's elementary schools participated this year. ASD is only the third district in the state to take advantage of the program so far. Monday's event at Lenape, however, was special because of Brison. She turns 6 today and has been battling acute lymphocytic leukemia for more than a quarter of her life.

Sydney is shy, but her mom, Angie Brison, said the relay was very heartwarming.

"I think it's awesome," Brison said. "(ASD) has been really supportive of Sydney all along, and I'm sure this means a lot to her."

Sydney completed more than two years of chemotherapy in February and is in remission, her mom said.

"She's a trooper," her mom said. "It was heartbreaking at first. But she has a big brother at home with her dad (in Ford Cliff), and she knows they're always there for her. It's good to see her school do so much, too."

When the relay took place at West Hills Primary School, organizers Joan Moore and Paula Matus also gave special recognition to Candace Carmella, a student there also battling cancer. Carmella's treatment kept her from being able to participate, which is one of the reasons Matus became emotional as she watched her cousin Brison lead classmates around Lenape's outdoor walking track.

"I'm on the (Ford City) Relay For Life committee, and I really wanted to see what we could do for the kids who are struggling with this disease," Matus said. "Everyone has been really receptive, and one student, Lance Quinell, collected $100 at a Bark For Life Relay on Saturday to present. It's really just a special day."

ASD raised more than $2,000 for the American Cancer Society during the six elementary school events, and each participant was given bottled water donated by local businesses including Dairy Queen, Sheetz, Spagnola's Foodland, West Kittanning Foodland, Marion Center Bank, Big Lots and Riverside Market. ARC Manor provided health and wellness information for kids to take home.

All of the students who took part in any of the relays are invited to attend the Ford City Relay For Life at 6 p.m. June 9 at the Ford City track field for a special commemorative lap.

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