Until last year, Relay For Life, a walk-a-thon to raise funds and awareness of cancer, was held at the Bethel High School track. Last year, due to repairs and renovation, the big sleep-over event was held instead at the Municipal Center. Many of the walkers complained that it just was not the same, and Alison Randall Hughes, who has participated in Relay for several years, is thrilled that this year, they will be back on the track.
Relay For Life is not just a fundraiser. Something about the event keeps people going back, year after year, decade after decade. Those interviewed said they didn't go the first time they were invited, but once they went, they never stopped.
Laura McCormick first came to Bethel almost 20 years ago. “A friend asked me to get involved with Relay For Life, and I said, 'No thank you', and I gave her my $20 donation.” Laughing, McCormick said, “When someone asks if you want to camp out at a high school track,” her words fell off as she remembered what sounded like a crazy idea.
The next year however, McCormick decided to participate. Not only has she kept coming back, she has joined the ranks and moved steadily up the ladder. Describing her climb in the organization, she said, “I went to the Divisional level, then I became Chair of that Board. Then I went on to the National Board, and now I am the International Chairman for Relay for Life.”
Since then, McCormick has traveled to eight other countries to train people how to hold an effective Relay for Life event. “We don't know where the cure is coming from, but this is global. We are all in this together, and the more we work together, the closer we come to a cure.”
According to McCormick, at least one medicine, Gleevec, was funded by Relay For Life. “I know firsthand of a Relay volunteer who came down with leukemia. She started taking that drug, and she had no chemo, no radiation. She takes a pill, and that was it.”
McCormick said her friend went into remission, and ten years later is celebrating her grandchildren. “We are targeting cures that target the illness, not the whole body,” she said.
The cures from Relay for Life do not just come in pill form. “The survivors, we honor them and keep them in the forefront of everything we do. There is a brotherhood and sisterhood they have with each other. The kind of sharing they have gone through together, I have seen the difference it makes in their life. Those who haven't experienced cancer, can't know. But I have seen it.”
Allison Hughes-Randall is a cancer survivor, and a dedicated volunteer with Relay. “I had cancer as a kid,” she said. “It makes you feel embarrassed. I didn't want people to know I had it.”
Cancer has played a large part in Hughes-Randall's life. She had a brain tumor at age 10 that returned when she was 14. She had another six weeks of radiation and surgery, and at 28, she was declared cancer-free. Now 36, Hughes-Randall said that cancer is almost genetic in her family.
“My aunt got cancer, and then my husband. Four or five years ago my mom got cancer.” Like so many others, Hughes-Randall was reluctant to participate in Relay the first time she heard about it. “But I finally went and I was just blown away,” she said. Since then, she became the Chair of the event.
Describing Relay, Hughes-Randall said, “Every relay is the same in it's essence. They have the same ceremonies, but how they approach it that's different. The first lap is always walked by survivors. Then once the sun goes down, the lights are turned off and the track will be lit by luminarias, tiny lights in a bag, and each will be lit for a survivor or someone who has passed away.”
Hughes-Randall said that most people leave after the ceremonies, but some walk late into the night, and some camp out. “Everybody has a reason they do this,” Hughes said, and this year, Relay has asked volunteers to share their stories about why they are willing to stay up all night and walk the track by candle light.
Participant Pat Deuschle is not a cancer survivor, but she was happy to share her story. “I Relay for my friends and family who have been diagnosed, treated and are celebrating that they are cancer-free. I Relay for my daughters, Nicole and Dee, and my many nieces and nephews, in hopes that the research we are funding will make it possible for them to avoid cancer. I Relay to educate anyone I can about the critical need for early detection.”
Hughes-Randall said, “I Relay because I’m tired of cancer being a part of my life, and I’ll do just about anything to spare another person from hearing the words, “You have Cancer.”
For those who would like to support or be involved in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life at the BHS track on June 9-10, please call 203-885-3464.
For those who want to offer their support, minus the outdoor sleep-over, a fundraiser has been organized by Paul Rodgers on April 27 at Cappellaro's Grove in Bethel. The ticket price includes a full course meal, with hors d'oeuvres, dinner, and dessert. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-460-6476 for more information. Tickets are $55.