Palmerton and surrounding areas recently kicked off their annual American Cancer Society Relay For Life event.

The evening party opener, held in the Palmerton Area High School, cafeteria was attended by about 75 people. The theme for the 2011 relay is Cancer Loses When Everyone Plays to Win.

This is the 10th anniversary for the Palmerton-based relay, which will be held May 21-22 from 10 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the high school.

Taking on the organizational responsibilities this year are Connie Smith, event chairperson, and Kim Ruch, co-chair.

"Why do we relay? We do it to celebrate those who are survivors; to remember those who have lost their fight; and to raise money to fight against cancer; and we want this year to be bigger and better than last year." said Smith.

"We have 11 teams registered already and some having full team members too," she added.

"We do not have a money goal set for this year just yet. This year we are going more toward reaching the Life Pace Setter awards Program," said Ruch.

The Pace Setters Award Program of East Central PA is designed to recognize community events that demonstrate leadership in year-round planning as in early recruitment of event volunteer leadership, team development and survivor engagements.

Pacesetter standards are achieved by meeting the goals of sponsorship, which are raising money, registering survivors, retaining teams and registering teams early on in the year.

"This year it is so exciting to see full committees already. This is a great way to help the relay bounce back." said Caylan Chanwik, American Cancer Society staff member.

During the kick-off party, cancer survivor Janet Naclerio of Lehighton shared her story.

In April of 2009, Naclerio had a heart attack and underwent open-heart surgery. She had a full recovery.

In February during her annual check up, she was surprised to be diagnosed with Large B cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which meant she had cancer.

"Who wants to hear those words? Nobody! My first thought was that well I am 70 years old already, I'll just have to accept this. Then I thought no I don't. I have two great children and 10 wonderful grandchildren. If I start chemo at least I will have a chance to live."

Naclerio started treatments in April and immediately lost her hair. She felt lucky that she faced very little other side effects from the chemo.

She credits her loved ones and prayer for helping her during treatments.

"My family helped me work through the cancer. They were very supportive in every way. They drove me to my treatments and my sister called me every day," said Naclerio.

She praised the ACS for its great support group. One of the things she remembers that gave her optimism, was a single phone call.

"One morning out of the clear blue a man called me on the phone and said he was a 10-year cancer survivor and we talked for two hours. He gave me hope," added Naclerio.

She had her last treatment in early September and she was recently diagnosed as cancer-free.

"I just held on to this thought. If God leads you to it, He will lead you through it."

The kick-off meeting ended with a review of team captain packets, a review of planned fundraiser and a question and answer period.

Relay for Life is an annual event that brings more than 3.5 million people together to celebrate the lives of those who have survived cancer, to remember the loved ones who lost their lives to the disease and to fight back by raising money for cancer research.

The next meeting will be held Monday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. in the high school cafeteria, located at 3525 Fireline Road in Palmerton.

For more information, visit www.relayforlife.org/papalmerton [1], or call Chris Borgor at (610) 442-6440.