Smithfield Relay for Life dedicated to late Woonsocket woman

Smithfield Relay for Life dedicated to late Woonsocket woman

Smithfield Relay for Life is dedicated to the late Stella Pamula, right, pictured with her husband and Joseph.

SMITHFIELD - A Woonsocket native who lost a seven-year battle to cancer in 2013 will be honored next weekend at the Smithfield Relay for Life, with her husband and former caregiver to serve as an event speaker.

Stella Pamula was diagnosed in 2006 with a rare form of endometrial cancer, and helped and inspired others as she fought the disease, in part through her efforts at Relay.

"Stella was a warrior right up to the end," said husband Joseph Pamula.

Relay for Life, which is held in some 5,200 communities in the United States annually, gives people a chance to "celebrate, remember and fight back" against cancer and has raised more than $3.9 billion for the American Cancer Society since its inception in 1985.

The Smithfield version will be held at Smithfield High School on June 14 and 15 from 2 p.m. to 8 a.m. The event is family-friendly and open to the public, and includes entertainment, speakers, concessions, and kids activities, such as face painting and Olympic-themed games.

While each Relay has its own structure, some of the traditions are universal. Teams of participants camp out at the annual fundraisers, and walk a track or field in turns, with one member walking at all times, a symbolic reminder that "cancer never sleeps." All survivors are considered guests of honor at Relay events many take part in a "Survivors Lap," to celebrate victories over the disease. After dark, candles are lit representing all those affected by cancer at a Luminaria Ceremony, and participants walk a lap in silence.

The Pamulas were introduced to the event soon after Stella was diagnosed, and the couple's experience, in many ways, illustrates why Relay has become important to so many people.

Stella and Joe became involved with Relay when the event was held in Woonsocket, at Dionne Track in Cass Park. It was not long before the Pamulas formed their own team, the Rockin' Robbins, and made Relay part of their annual tradition.

The couple took part in 10 Relay events and Joe, a musician who has played in dozens of local bands, performed at three.

In 2008, Stella, a modest woman who was not typically comfortable with public speaking, was asked to talk, and delivered a six-page account of her experience.

"I was really proud," said Joe. "She talked about everything she went through and told people that they were not in it by themselves."

Later that day, a woman approached the couple to say thank you.

"She said she had just been diagnosed, and that before she heard my wife's speech she had planned to go home and commit suicide," said Joe. "My wife actually saved a life."

Joe will speak at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 14, and said he will discuss how cancer turned his family's lives upside down.

In her first round of treatment alone, Joe said, Stella endured chemotherapy six times and radiation 33 times. During the final year of her life, she went to 67 doctor's appointments.

"I'm going to talk about how cancer just walked into my home and did whatever it wanted to us," Joe said.

Stella Pamula passed away last October at the age of 59 and left behind five daughters and seven grand children.