Bellefonte

Supporting survivors, fighting cancer at Bellefonte Relay for Life

Sherie Bartley, of Unionville, and her granddaughter Michaela Turner, 5, walk the course during the relay. The 20th annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life is held in Governors Park, in Bellefonte, Pa., May 31, 2014.
Sherie Bartley, of Unionville, and her granddaughter Michaela Turner, 5, walk the course during the relay. The 20th annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life is held in Governors Park, in Bellefonte, Pa., May 31, 2014. CDT photo

The straight brown hair that once flowed past Sadie Ripka’s shoulders is now to about her chin.

Sadie, 7, chopped off at least 8 inches of hair to support the Pantene Beautiful Lengths hair donation event at the 20th annual Relay for Life of Bellefonte on Saturday.

Her older sister Shaylin, 10, said she didn’t have enough hair to participate but wants to do it next year.

The two were part of the Tara’s Angels relay team, in honor of their mother, Tara Ripka, a 14-year breast cancer survivor and 13-year participant in the Bellefonte Relay.

Ripka and her team of family and friends were among 35 other teams and more than 450 individuals who participated in the relay. Its mission is to help raise money and awareness for the American Cancer Society.

Team members took turns through the night Friday walking around the path at Governors Park, kicking off Saturday’s events with line dancing at 8:30 a.m..

Last year, Tara’s Angels raised the most money, bringing in $12,100. This year, her team’s goal was to raise at least $10,000, Ripka said.

By 6 p.m. Saturday, they had narrowly exceeded that goal.

“It’s like another family and does so much outreach that it’s our turn to give back,” Ripka said. “The event is nothing but positive, and is really about camaraderie and raising awareness.”

In 2000, when Ripka was 27, she learned she had breast cancer. Now, 14 years later, she was among 200 cancer survivors at the relay.

“When you go though this, it opens your eyes to a whole new world,” Ripka said. “There are some things I do now that I would have never done before.”

One of those things was camping. She said she agreed to camp out at Governors Park overnight — for the first time since she began participating in the relay 13 years ago.

“I would have never done it, but some things change your mind,” she said.

In March, Ripka had a double mastectomy after a second breast cancer diagnosis.

She is still going through the physical healing process, but Ripka said it’s a procedure she’d do again to guarantee the cancer never returns.

“(It’s) absolutely worth it,” she said. “You go through this with a positive attitude and a good support system that makes all the difference.”

Bellefonte Relay co-chairwoman Pam Royer is in a different situation. She’s the caretaker for her husband, who was given a cancer diagnosis two years ago.

“It’s just a bump in the road,” she said. “You’re never alone going through this. You have a whole new family from Relay — a community who helps.”

In 19 years, the relay has raised $1.92 million, said chairwoman Gail Miller, who also is a cancer survivor. This year, it will break the $2 million mark.

As of Saturday afternoon, about $95,000 had been raised, surpassing its total from last year by about $7,000.

“It takes a community to make this happen,” Miller said. “We come to celebrate our survivors, remember those we lost and fight back against cancer.”

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