By Kevin Kelley
In August 2010, Tom Jelepis was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The former Bay Village mayor underwent 10 months of sometimes grueling treatment, but is cancer-free today. At times, the responsibilities of maintaining a home and family, as well as a commercial real estate business, left Jelepis and his wife, Beverly, overwhelmed.
“I had plenty of support,” Jelepis told West Life. But Tom and Beverly realized that simple chores like mowing the lawn and shopping can be difficult for cancer patients without a significant support system.
Just over a year ago, they formed Friends From the Start, a nonprofit foundation to provide resources for Westshore cancer patients. The organization, through its website friendsfromthestart.org, seeks to be a clearinghouse of information for patients. The group also seeks to provide a database of volunteers and businesses that will offer free or low-cost services, such as rides to medical appointments or yard care, to cancer patients and their families.
Jelepis will be the keynote speaker at Westlake Relay For Life, which takes place this weekend at the Westlake Recreation Center, 28955 Hilliard Blvd. The American Cancer Society fundraiser centers around teams of people who take turns walking or running around a track to raise money from sponsors for cancer research. The opening ceremonies, at which Jelepis will speak, begin at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Serving as chairperson of the Westlake Relay for the second year in a row is Amy Brediger. She got involved with the event after her father, Bill Hackenberg, was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach and esophagus in February 2012. This year’s Westlake Relay will be dedicated to Hackenberg and Mary Purpura, who died of ovarian cancer in January at the age of 72.
Although Hackenberg, 64, died Jan. 17, his Relay team, “Bill’s Buddies,” will be back again. One of 10 teams signed up for this weekend’s fundraiser, Bill’s Buddies has already raised $6,600 for the fight against cancer.
The overall fundraising goal for the 2013 Westlake Relay is $32,000, a hefty increase over last year’s figure of $22,000.
At times, Brediger found it difficult to immerse herself in the planning for this year’s Relay so soon after her father’s death, she said. But her father’s enthusiasm for the fundraiser never wavered; he kept attending committee meetings up through the month before his death, she said.
“Once he got into it, he couldn’t stop,” Brediger said.
Started in 1985 by a Tacoma, Wash., physician, Relay For Life consists of many of the same elements in every community in which it’s held. Brediger said participating cancer survivors find comfort in a similar routine from year to year.
“They know what to expect,” she said.
One such staple, the survivor luncheon, will take place in the community room of the Westlake Recreation Center at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The meal will be sponsored by Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Bob DeMaria, a physician, will speak on nutrition following the luncheon.
At 7 p.m., a ceremony will honor caregivers of cancer patients.
“The toll on them is as much as it is on the survivors,” Brediger said.
Jon Prescott, a radiation oncologist, will speak during the ceremony on the importance of the caregiver from a physician’s perspective, Brediger said.
Pinwheels, which will be sold for $5 each, will be symbolically “planted” to honor caregivers during the ceremony.
The luminaria ceremony, named after the bags with lighted candles used to remember those who died of cancer or those still fighting it, will take place at 9 p.m. Saturday. Luminarias cost $10 and can be purchased on-site or online at RelayFor Life.org/Westlake. Donations can also be made online.
The event concludes Sunday morning with a pancake breakfast sponsored by the Westlake Kiwanis, followed by the closing ceremonies.
Any cancer survivor wishing to sign up for the Carrabba’s luncheon can do so by calling Brediger at 440-666-0662, or Rick Grane, a longtime Westlake Relay organizer, at 440-829-0974. Brediger is also encouraging Westlake businesses and residents to post purple ribbons to promote this weekend’s fundraiser. Ribbons can be obtained by calling her.