As she was named the 2018 Hero of Hope Award winner at the 2018 Monroe County Relay for Life, Roseann Rizzuto repeated the advice she has given women for years — early detection saves lives.

As she was named the 2018 Hero of Hope Award winner at the 2018 Monroe County Relay for Life, Roseann Rizzuto repeated the advice she has given women for years — early detection saves lives.

“Get those mammograms,” she told those assembled for the annual Monroe County Relay for Life at the Monroe County Courthouse.

It was vintage Rizzuto, who served as lead for the Relay for Life for three years. She has been a zealot to encourage women to be proactive in the fight against breast cancer.

In 1998, when she was 46 years old, a routine mammogram found a tumor the size of a pea. She says the discovery likely saved her life.

The former director of the Paris Senior Citizens Community Center in Paris had 17 lymph nodes removed and endured more than 30 tiring and draining radiation treatments. She is a passionate crusader for early detection.

“Early detection is so important,” said the native of Long Island, N.Y.

Rizzuto’s award came during the opening ceremony of the 2018 edition of the Monroe County Relay for Life. This was the first relay completely run by volunteers as the American Cancer Society, which withdrew its staff support for rural relays across the country.

Organizers, led by Tina Hubert of Madison, spent the last four months working to stage the event, generating business and individual donations, gathering items for the silent auction, coordinating vendors and inviting cancer survivors – and arranging entertainment.

The annual relay raises money for businesses, a silent auction and teams walking laps around the courthouse.

As the event got under way on Saturday, there was little doubt that the oppressive 95-degree heat was a factor as attendance and participation appeared to be down from previous editions of the event. Still, 200-300 committed people showed up for Monroe County’s annual fight against cancer.

Following the opening ceremony, most of the 90-plus cancer survivors who attended the event gathered at about 6:20 p.m. for the first lap around the courthouse. Those who could not walk rode on the bed of a trailer. During the second lap, the survivors were joined by family members and caregivers. Then, the teams started their laps around the courthouse.

Families walked together in the heat – in some cases representing three generations.

By some estimates, there are more than 100 known forms of cancer – each taking a toll on patients and families. The Monroe Relay for Life has been a fixture of early June for the last 30-plus years, drawing churches, companies and individuals coming together to raise money for cancer research and to celebrate those who have survived cancer. The event has averaged about $20,000 a year – or about $600,000 for the over the years.

As she introduced Rizzuto, event organizer Donna Morgan lauded Rizzuto’s years leading the annual event.

“Since 2006, we have selected a cancer survivor who has been active with the relay…who has been an encourager to other survivors,” she said. “I have known this recipient for many years…in fact, I met her at my first relay back in 2002, and she was out there encouraging others to never, ever give up.” Morgan said as she was building up to reveal Rizzuto as the honoree. “To me, she is one of our heroes, and one of the bright lights at the end of the tunnel in Monroe County…and she is my sister in Christ.”

As darkness fell, the annual Luminary, featuring candles honoring those who have lost their fight to cancer and those who have survived, covered the west side of the courthouse, wrapping around to the north.

The Luminary serves as a reminder of the human toll extracted by cancer.