Oakmont Relay for Life on pace to exceed $70,000 goal
Two-time cancer survivor Connie Ainsworth of Penn Hills said family, friends and caregivers are the backbone of support needed to deal with the disease and life moving forward.
"In their minds, they're racing through everything that could happen, what's going to happen, what do they have to do, keeping emotions in check," she said. "The are constantly working at this. Survivors know exactly what they need to do. You know what your chances are and you forge forward."
Ainsworth, 65, was diagnosed in January 2001 with uterine cancer and July 2004 with breast cancer.
"What you thought was important before your diagnoses isn't even a consideration after your diagnosis," she said. "Your priorities do a 180. They just flip right over."
She made it a priority to serve as the survivor and caregiver welcoming committee for Relay for Life in Oakmont Saturday at Riverside Park.
Ainsworth, a tai chi instructor at Unity Community Church in Plum, led participants in breathing exercises before the laps started.
Oakmont's relay was led by resident Nancy "Moochie" Donatucci, 61, an 11-year stage three breast cancer survivor.
Saturday marked the 18th annual relay in the borough, and its fifth under Donatucci's leadership.
She said 24 teams participated, and they are on pace to exceed the $70,000 goal.
"It fluctuates year to year as far a teams," Donatucci said. "I think we don't have as many teams (as previous years), but we're still raising the money ... We're like one big family who tries to help people out in time of need."
Teams fundraise throughout the year with all monies due in by the end of July. Oakmont's Relay collected approximately $72,000 last year.
"Everybody's touched by cancer in some way or another," Donatucci said. "The money raised doesn't just go for research. It goes for support, many different programs that help not only people going through cancer, but their families. We'd like to thank everybody who supports our relay throughout the year, teams who raise money and the community. We couldn't do this without them."
The event went from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. with more than 120 people participating.
Opening ceremonies featured a dove release by Penn Hills resident Vince Rapneth of Peaceful Spirits, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Cub Scout Troop 137 of Oakmont, a moment of silence and signing of "Amazing Grace" by Alani DiLonardo and "God Bless America" by her sister Abby DiLonardo, both of Plum.
Riverview Dek Hockey Association officials presented Donatucci with a trophy. Former Oakmont Mayor Bob Fescemyer cut the ribbon at the starting line. Scouts and survivors led the first lap.
Other activities included a luminary and survivor ceremony, various children's games and food vendors, a fun-run for kids ages 3-12, basket raffles and musical performances by local artists. Mascots from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Steelers and Penguins made an appearance, and warriors from Pittsburgh Sword Fighters literally fought for the cure.
Instructors from the Creighton-based company demonstrated various forms of combat. Classes ranged from fencing, practical self-defense to kunst des fechtens, a German fighting style taught in the Holy Roman Empire during the late Medieval, Renaissance and early modern periods.
Relay's theme this year was music with the motto "Just for the Record We Will Find a Cure."
The "o" in record was a vinyl album. Teams picked songs about surviving and encouragement.
Riverview Relay Event Team led by Donatucci went with "The Cure" by Lady Gaga.
Ainsworth's team, The Players, selected "I'm Gonna Love You Through It" by Martina McBride.
Ainsworth's husband, Stephen Ainsworth, had some advice for fellow caregivers.
"A caregiver should never say, 'That's silly,'" he said. "She's come up with a lot of theories and thoughts and sometimes bizarre outlooks. Just support those theories."
Those who could not attended Relay can still contribute can make checks payable to American Cancer Society and send them to 420 11th St., Oakmont, Pa, 15139.
The Oakmont relay was one of many similar events throughout the world. The American Cancer Society has invested more than $4 billion in cancer research since 1976.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, email@example.com or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.