Cancer survivors smiled at the sunshine as they and hundreds of supporters flocked to Riverside Park in Oakmont the first weekend in June for the 19th annual Relay for Life.
“We were very fortunate,” said organizer Nancy “Moochie” Donatucci, a 12-year, Stage 3 cancer survivor. “Gorgeous day, we appreciate all the support. I think it’s been a good turnout today. They seem happy. I feel like it’s going to be a successful day for us.”
The event kicked off around 9 a.m. and was scheduled until 10 p.m.
The Oakmont relay’s theme this year was board games, with the motto, “Sorry Cancer, We Choose Life.”
Teams had various game-related items at each table. Many of them included gift basket raffles.
Relay participants picked up a gameboard and received check marks when they visited booths. They then turned in their cards for a chance to win a basket — containing many board games.
“Everybody’s stopping at every tent,” Donatucci said. “Kids and adults are both enjoying it a lot.
“The game doesn’t finish until we find a cure.”
About two dozen teams participated in the event, including newcomers Team M&M. It was led by Karen Sanguigni, 58, of McCandless. She survived a uterine cancer diagnosis last year.
The team is named after Matt Sanguigni, 49, of Oakmont and his stepmother, Mary Sanguigni of Cranberry. Matt survived colon cancer two years ago. Mary, Karen’s mother-in-law, died from uterine cancer June 2017 after living with the disease for five years. She was 73.
“We wanted everybody in our family to remember our mother, Mary, and to honor Matt,” Karen Sanguigni said. “We’re raising a lot of money. That was kind of secondary for us to the remembering part, and did something in her honor. Mary was a great woman. She was generous and kind — tried hard to include everybody and bring our family together.”
Other survivors shared their stories at the beginning of the event.
Kathy Garrison, 73, of Bethel Park was joined by her daughter Kristin Smihal, 47, of Shippensburg. Smihal is a 13-year cervical cancer survivor. Garrison is a triple negative breast cancer survivor. Triple negative means the three most common types of receptors known to fuel most breast cancer growth are not present in the cancer tumor.
“When you’re sick, it’s a full-time job,” Smihal said. “You’re at the hospital every day in that sterile, clinical environment.“
Garrison helped start multiple cancer support groups and founded K&J’s Complete Woman in 1990. It’s a specialty boutique in Monroeville and McMurray that offers medical equipment, wigs, mastectomy products and maternity items.
“We’ve met the strongest, most inspiring women,” Smihal said of the business. “They come in and they’re battered and they’re bruised, but they’re never broken and their spirit inspires us everyday. We’ve made life-long friends.”
Abby DoLonardo of Plum sang “God Bless America” and Alani DiLonardo sang “Amazing Grace” during the opening ceremonies. Bob Fescemyer of Oakmont sang the national anthem and cut the ribbon to start the first lap in memory of his wife, Judy, who passed away Aug. 8, 2017 at age 75. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells.
Other activities in Oakmont included a luminaria and survivor ceremony, silent auction, face painting, musical performances by local artists, board breaking by CS Kim Karate and Kelsey’s Dance & Fitness.
Fundraising tallies were not available. Donatucci said she believes they would be able to hit the $70,000 mark or more in fundraising.