Relay participant: 'I feel lucky to be here'

by mike lesko | Reporter Published:

Streetsboro -- Shelly Denison of Ravenna remembered the horror of learning in 1996 that she had ovarian cancer.

"But I'm one of the lucky ones," said Denison, explaining how she had surgery in 1997 and has been free of cancer ever since.

Denison was a participant at the Northern Portage Relay For Life event at Aurora High School's Veterans Stadium June 6-7.

Money raised for Northern Portage Relay For Life is expected to be about $56,000, according to co-chairperson Chuck Richardson. The goal was to raise $60,200, according to co-chairperson Kevin Nietert. The event had nine teams with 143 participants. Last year's event raised about $48,000.

Denison has been a member of Carol's Crew, a Relay team captained by former Streetsboro resident Carol Ranta, since 2003.

"This is a way to fight back," Denison said about taking part in Relay For Life. "We're raising more money for research -- more research to help more people."

Denison said a parent of one of her best friends died of lung cancer in 2010.

"I feel extremely lucky to be here," Denison said.

Linda Savel, a Shalersville resident who previously lived in Streetsboro, is Ranta's sister. Their grandfather, Steve Savel of Bainbridge, died of cancer in 2008. Linda Savel was at Relay For Life to honor him.

"You feel like you're actually doing something [by taking part]," she said. "You're giving your time."

Aurora's Sarah Hillyer was at Relay For Life to honor her late husband, Mike, who died of liver cancer 2 ½ years ago. She is a member of the Miller-Craddock School Relay For Life team, which has been in existence for 15 years.

"I came here in his memory," she said. "I have so many friends who have fought so hard [against cancer]. Everybody has been touched."

Mike Hillyer was the AHS band booster president for eight years. He and his wife were big Ohio State football fans.

Sarah, a retired teacher, recalled her first OSU football game, which she attended the day before she met her future husband.

"I said to my mom, 'I just met a guy. He's really funny. You'll like him,'" Sarah said.

Everybody liked Mike Hillyer.

"Mike was one of the most fun-loving guys," said Teri Hickey, a Miller-Craddock team member.

Barb Kudley, also a Miller-Craddock team member, added, "Mike had the best sense of humor."

The Hillyers rarely missed an OSU football game. They had tickets for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3, 2003 in Tempe, Ariz., in which Ohio State defeated Miami, 31-24, in double overtime to capture the national championship, but Mike was recovering from a July heart attack, so they gave the tickets to their daughter, Karen.

Mike Hillyer battled cancer for about one year before he died.

"We've got to keep working to find a cure," Sarah said.

Barb Kudley, a library assistant at Miller and Craddock, and wife of Aurora Council member John Kudley, twice beat cancer -- colon cancer 16 years ago and breast cancer eight years ago.

"Everybody has been touched by cancer," she said. "Everybody knows somebody ..."

Hickey, a Craddock teacher, said she was there to support Barb Kudley.

They were also in attendance to honor Hal Estis, the late husband of retired Craddock teacher Phyllis Estis. Hal Estis died of liver cancer.

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