Kelly Cianci, left, and Tammy Kuznik hold up a sign they made for their Relay for Life team, Judy's Angels, at Cianci's home in Finksburg July 30._- Original Credit: Natalie Eastwood/Staff photo
Kelly Cianci, left, and Tammy Kuznik hold up a sign they made for their Relay for Life team, Judy's Angels, at Cianci's home in Finksburg July 30._- Original Credit: Natalie Eastwood/Staff photo (HANDOUT)

Westminster's Relay for Life event, held at the Agriculture Center, was May 15, but for Judy's Angels, fundraising is still in full swing. The team, which is among the top fundraisers for the event, has already raised more than $12,000 for the fundraising year that runs from Sept. 1, 2014 to Aug. 31.

Relay for Life is an overnight fundraising event for the American Cancer Society held throughout the year in more than 20 countries, during which participants walk and raise money to honor and remember loved ones who have battled, or continue to battle, cancer.

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At the forefront of Judy's Angels is team captain Kelly Cianci, of Finksburg, who began the relay team in 2010 with her sister Sandy Wargowdski. Wargowdski was the team captain for the first four years, but handed over the reigns to Cianci last year.

Cianci's unofficial co-captain for this past year was Tammy Kuznik. This year Cianci and Kuznik helped organize the Relay for Life event in Westminster as team ambassadors, which meant that they helped other relay teams with their questions about fundraising.

Judy's Angels is named for Cianci and Wargowdski's mother, Judy, who died of breast cancer in 2004. Although Cianci and her 19 team members might not be angels, she said, they are doing their best to do some good.

"I just hope I have an ounce of what my mom had to give," Cianci said. "She was a very special person, and if I can even do a little bit of some of the good that she did in this world … if I can carry that torch, even for a lap, I feel like my life will be successful."

The relay itself is a continual walk done by people in teams so that at least one person is walking to represent his or her team.

Teams often decorate their area at the relay with signs and wear themed costumes, Cianci said. It is a fun time as well as an emotional experience.

At Relay for Life, Cianci is part of a group of people who have cancer or have loved ones battling cancer, which helps her grieve the lives lost as well as celebrate the lives saved, Cianci said.

"It's bittersweet. It's amazing when you see all the survivors, which is really important because you get to see the gratification of what you do … You see everyone that you're working for when you're there," Cianci said.

The "bitter" part of Relay for Life is thinking about all of the people who lost their battle with cancer and cannot walk the track, Cianci said.

Cianci said her mom is not the only person who motivates her to do what she does for Relay for Life. Cianci lost her mother and three of her aunts to breast cancer as well as her first husband to leukemia in 2005.

Caner is still something that plagues Cianci's loved ones. Her current husband was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2013, but he had surgery and is now cancer-free.

For about six years Cianci bounced from the hospital where her first husband, Chad Cianci, received bone marrow treatments to her home with her son, Blayne Cianci, who was 11 at the time and not old enough to visit his dad because of hospital regulations. Chad would be in the hospital for four to six weeks at a time and only be at home four to six months at a time, Cianci said.

Lynn Erickson-Blevins has known Cianci for about 20 years. Throughout all she has gone through, Cianci has stayed positive, Erickson-Blevins said. She is always able to see the small things that are good in her life and focus on those instead of the negative, Erickson-Blevins said. Her positivity inspires people around her to see the good in their lives.

"She's very inspirational and you can tell [Relay for Life] is true to her heart, and it brings out the best in everyone around her," Erickson-Blevins said.

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Cianci said that she is always willing to talk with people about cancer prevention as well as guide people to where they can go for help.

"There are a million questions out there. And unless you have an advocate who knows what they're doing, you're lost ... If I can't answer your question, I can get you to someone who can," Cianci said.

Cianci is rather private about her personal life, Erickson-Blevins said, but she opens up to other people who also have a friend or family member battling cancer.

"I don't even know how to explain how she does it in a positive way but she does," Erickson-Blevins said.

Cianci said losing her husband was hard for her, but she also knew it was difficult for her son. A child when his dad died, Blayne was dealing with something that he could not even fully process as an adult would, Cianci said.

"It was rough," said Blayne, now 22. "I was kind of young so it's hard to I guess emotionally put it into its own [category]."

The children who have to experience cancer from the sidelines are the ones who really "pull her heartstrings," Cianci said.

"I just felt like I wanted to try and make a world where no other children would ever have to experience such things," Cianci said.

It is good for Blayne see her involved with Relay for Life, too, Cianci said, because it teaches him that it is important for him to have something bigger than himself to fight for.

Cianci said her advice to people fighting cancer or who have loved ones battling the disease is to never give up.

"Keep fighting. Just don't give up hope. Just don't give up," she said.

For each of the past four years, Cianci said that her team has hosted a minimum of four to six fundraisers — which range from flower sales to car washes — and raised an average of $1,500 to $2,500 each year.

Each event they held this past fundraising year brought in almost double the amount of money compared to past years to get them to their total of more than $12,000, Cianci said.

"It's been an incredible year for us. Everyone keeps saying that next year is going to be bigger and I'm still amazed by this year," Cianci said.

The real reason Cianci gave for the roughly $10,000 increase was her team members, who not only increased in number but in strength in terms of their fundraising skills and dedication to the team.

"It just keeps getting bigger and bigger every year, and I suspect that next year … starting Relay I'm sure I'll have more than 19 team members," Cianci said.

Tina Feinstein, of Hanover, a member of Judy's Angels and Kuznik's sister, said that Cianci and Kuznik work as a team. Their attitude toward Relay for Life combined with their excitement and knowledge about the cause helped draw her in to Judy's Angles, Feinstein said.

"They're very good with communicating and getting things started and motivating everyone," Feinstein said.

Cianci is outspoken about her passion for Relay for Life, Kuznik said, and it is Cianci's passion that pulls people to Judy's Angels.

"I know that sometimes she has reservations, but she always knows that we can do it," Kuznik said.

Cianci described herself as a mountain climber — figuratively speaking.

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"I'm certainly not the kind of person who is afraid of a challenge or would walk away from one either. So that's why I do it. I'm determined. I'm just determined that [cancer] is going to end at some point, and I'm going to do whatever I can do to make that happen," Cianci said.

For more information about the American Cancer Society or Relay for Life, visit http://www.cancer.org. For more information about Judy's Angels or to donate, call 410-499-7575.

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