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Middletown Life

15 years of hope

Jan 01, 2015 01:24PM ● By Kerigan Butt

By Steven Hoffman

Staff Writer

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but for people like Deb Watson, Sharon Hart, Stephanie Ripanti, Libby Martin, Bette Webster, Evelyn Robinson, and Kenny Ford, the fight against cancer is a ceaseless battle that knows no bounds. These people are warriors in the fight against cancer. Each year they come together for an event that showcases the power of remembering, the wisdom of working together, and the courage of standing up to a dreaded disease.

The 2014 the Middletown Relay for Life took place at the Silver Lake Park on Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7. Every year is slightly different, but the main goal is always the same: to raise awareness about cancer and to raise money to eliminate the disease. The goal this year was to exceed $200,000.

Relay for Life events take place in large and small communities across the country, raising millions of dollars for the American Cancer Society each year. The roots of Relay for Life can be traced back to 1985 and an estimated $5 billion has been collected worldwide since then. Everyone has a reason for relaying, and it’s almost always very personal.

The annual Relay for Life event in Middletown is a chance to remember, fight back, and celebrate.

For Libby Martin and Bette Webster, they participate in the Middletown Relay for Life because their parents, Robert and Rose Alexander, both battled cancer and are survivors. Rose has been cancer-free for 15 years, Robert for 9 years. Libby’s son also battled thyroid cancer.

Evelyn Robinson of Townsend is a member of the Immanuel Townsend team, one of the leading teams in this Relay event each year. She expressed a view held by many people at the 15th annual Middletown Relay for Life.

“We have to find a cure for this,” Robinson explained. “It touches everybody and we have to find a cure for this.”

Kenny Ford is a two-time cancer survivor. After the first diagnosis, he told his friend Vicky Kendall that “This is why we Relay.” He was more committed than ever to battling cancer, not just for himself but for anyone else who might be diagnosed with the disease.

“He is my hero,” Kendall said of Ford. On the delay of the relay, heroes are all around. They practically stand shoulder to shoulder as they walk laps around the track in honor of cancer survivors or in memory of those who passed away from cancer.

Kendall is the publicity chairperson of the committee that organizes the Middletown Relay for Life. Her late grandmother was diagnosed with cancer 28 years ago and as a caregiver for her Kendall saw firsthand the importance of finding a cure for cancer.

When a neighbor’s young daughter, Natalia Ferrara was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 3—Natalia is 20 now—Kendall sought out a Relay for Life to participate in. The Ferraras were determined to fight back against cancer, and so was Kendall.

“I have lost so many people to cancer,” Kendall said. “And this makes me feel like we’re doing something.”

The Middletown Relay event is filled with activities, especially during the overnight hours. On Friday evening, there is a dinner for the cancer survivors and caregivers. Each survivor is introduced as they begin the journey around the track. A touching luminaria ceremony provides an opportunity to remember those who have passed away.

Libby Martin and Bette Webster take part in the annual Relay for Life because family members have battled cancer.

A committee of between 12 and 15 people work throughout the year to plan the event.

“A lot of us have been on the committee for all 15 years,” Kendall explained. “I’ve been doing this so long that I’ve seen children grow up here. That’s really celebrating life when you’ve seen families grow up {at this event}.”

Because of the dedicated volunteers, the Middletown Relay for Life was nominated for the Spirit of Relay Award for the Delmarva Peninsula because it is a “quintessential example of a community that takes up the fight and embraces everyone and anyone in the community who wants to join them.”

More people are joining each year. Debbie Watson lost her brother to cancer and is herself a cancer survivor. She not only participates in the annual Relay for Life for Gary’s Chargers (the Relay group named after her late brother’s favorite football team), she serves on the committee that plans the event. Her family has benefited from the American Cancer Society’s programs and services when her brother was sick. That keeps her motivated to make sure that that help is available to other families.

“My family walks because we want to make sure that no family goes through this,” Watson said.

Plus, the event is a lot of fun. While there are certainly moments of remembrance, the Middletown event has been lauded for its positive atmosphere.

“We had a great time last year,” Watson said with a laugh, explaining that there is a celebratory tone to the event. It is an opportunity for family and friends to come together for a common cause.

Billy Grybowski and his wife, Jenn, residents of Wilmington, come back year after year. Grybowski was diagnosed with leukemia just a few years after graduating from high school. It was a life-changing experience, and he made it through with the support of family and friends, but the extended support provided by the Relay for Life helped, too.

“I never knew beforehand that there were organizations like this,” Grybowski said.

Sharon Hart is a part of Team Survivor that has raised about $50,000 over seven years.

“This is the least depressing event to have related to cancer,” Hart said. “There is an emotional time, but it uplifting, too.”

Some Relay for Life teams, like the Angels of All Generations, are legacies. This team was started by Joyce Scott, who died in 2008 from ovarian cancer. Her family continues the team in her memory.

Billy Grybowski and his wife, Jenn, residents of Wilmington, participate in the Middletown Relay event year after year.

Kendall said that the team captains are active throughout the year and team members sometimes hold yard sales, car washes, and online fundraising to boost the totals collected.

Stephanie Ripanti, a resident of Townsend, is a member of Beauties fighting the Beast. She has been a cancer survivor for five years.

“I wanted to do something to give back,” Ripanti said.

Webster and Martin are on team “Git R Done” which this year set as a goal raising $1,600. The team members had raised more than that before the day of the event. Webster and Martin both said that they like to be involved on the day of the Relay for Life because it’s a fun, family-friendly bonding experience.

“Your feet are sore the next day, you’re tired, but it’s definitely worth it,” Martin explained.

Julia Foxwell, a community manager with the American Cancer Society, said that Middletown’s Relay for Life has earned a reputation for being one of the most entertaining and fun Relays around, which is one reason for its success.

“Every Relay for Life is different,” Foxwell said. “And every person has a different reason for being here.”

Foxwell lauded Middletown for being a community-wide effort.

The Town of Middletown is very supportive, Kendall said. The town is not only a sponsor of the event, but also provides additional funding and sends Public Works employees to help handle the logistics.

“We could not do this without the support of the town,” she said.

Everyone involved with the Middletown Relay for Life is looking to finish this fight against cancer. They look forward to a day when there is a cure and so many millions of lives will be prolonged.

Anyone interested in joining the fight against cancer can start now in preparation for next year’s Relay for Life event. More information about the Middletown event can be found on the event’s page on and on Facebook.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email

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