For more than a decade, Holly Cremonese bravely lived with a cancer diagnosis.
In 2017, at 52 years old, the disease claimed her life. Her joyful, caring spirit lives on and her legacy has inspired others to raise money for other cancer survivors and their families.
This year, the staff of Medical Group of the Carolinas — Gastroenterology — Spartanburg organized a team of people to walk in Relay For Life in her memory. The team, “Holly’s Hope,” has the entire office staff of 20 people participating.
Relay For Life raises funds for the American Cancer Society, which help cancer patients and their families. Relay For Life is staffed and coordinated by teams of volunteers. On the day of the event, team members take turns walking around a track for a period of anywhere between six and 24 hours.
Janice Yannello, senior practice manager of gastroenterology, said Cremonese worked for the practice for 10 years. In that entire time, she battled some form of cancer.
“She worked every day,” Yannello said. “She tried to schedule her treatments around work.”
She said Cremonese never complained and had a resilient spirit.
“She didn’t give up until the very end,” Yannello said. “She was an inspiration to everyone.”
Cremonese left behind a twin sister, Heidi; two sons, Cory and Matt; and her husband Ralph. She is remembered for her love of penguins and her dedication to her family.
“She always went to Cory’s baseball games,” Yannello said. “Cold, raining, it didn’t matter, she was there. She was a wonderful mother and coworker.”
Veronica Petry, who works at the office but had never met Holly, was inspired by her story and decided to make a quilt in her honor. The quilt, made up mostly of Relay For Life T-shirts, will be brought to the walk Friday and people can make donations to enter a drawing for the quilt. A winner will be selected during the event.
Petry said this year’s walk is especially important, not only because of Cremonese, but also for other loved ones dealing with cancer. Petry lost a grandparent to the disease; a cousin and an uncle have also been diagnosed.
“I just have a passion for it”
Relay For Life allows families to not only raise funds for loved ones battling the disease but also helps them find a supportive and understanding community.
Lisa Coggins, clinical pharmacist with Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, said she has been participating in Relay For Life of Spartanburg for 20 years both as a team captain and as part of the leadership team that coordinates the event.
Coggins first walked in honor of her uncle, who died in the 1980s. She has lost other family members and friends since, but cancer struck even closer to home when she was diagnosed and treated for a stage one melanoma that required surgery.
"I just have a passion for it," she said. "Once I got involved basically I was just hooked."
Coggins said Spartanburg’s Relay has been in the top 10 percent as far as raising money per capita.
“It gives them a sense of hope”
Staci Roberts, outreach program manager for Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute, said the support gained through Relay For Life assists Gibbs patients with lodging, transportation, treatment issues, counseling services and more.
“I think for the most part the people who participate are survivors and caretakers,” Roberts said. “It gives them a sense of hope.”
She said the event offers a chance for people to see positive outcomes and feel a sense of community, support and fellowship with others in a similar situation. The goal of Gibbs’ team is to raise $300,000 and Roberts said they are already at $258,000. The walk will be held Friday, May 25, after being rescheduled due to the weather.
Relay For Life event will be held at the University of South Carolina Upstate on Friday, May 24, from 6 p.m. to midnight.
"Until people come out to Relay and see the cancer survivors take a lap and caretakers take a lap, until people see the actual event, it's hard to describe it,” Coggins said. “It's a worthwhile event."
To start your own or join a Relay For Life team, visit relayforlife.com.