For eight years, the Greenwich Relay for Life has raised money for cancer research, treatment and care on behalf of the American Cancer Society, uniting volunteers for an all-night event of entertainment, exercise, and hope.
Last Friday night into Saturday morning, close to 400 enthusiastic partipants and their supportors lined the field at Brunswick School starting at 6 p.m. for what would be a 12-hour test of endurance. Encouraged by sponsors and donations, volunteers marched around the track all-night, demonstrating their resolve in the fight against cancer.
Organized locally as part of a national effort, the Greenwich Relay for Life works to unite the community in this struggle. That includes engaging cancer survivors and caretakers, as well as young people who are willing and able to dedicate the time necessary to organize such an involved event. This year’s Relay for Life raised $77,347 for the American Cancer Society and will continue to accept donations through its website until Aug. 31.
Greenwich High School student Chandler LaSorsa found out about the relay through GHS’s cancer awareness club and was motivated by his personal relationship with the disease. Chandler has lost two grandparents to cancer and his mother has been battling multiple forms of cancer through the last eight years, undergoing chemotherapy and surgical treatments.
The 2014 relay marks Chandler’s fourth year of involvement, and second as luminaria chair. According to the event’s website Chandler was the top fund-raiser going into the evening, having raised $3,720 for the cause.
“You get a certain energy from relay. When the music starts going and everyone shows up, you get that adreniline rush and you don’t even need any coffee to stay up all night. You’ve got so many beautiful people coming out to support a good cause, and it’s just fantastic,” Chandler told the Post. “Cancer doesn’t sleep — why should we?”
Local businesses helped out with sponsored food and demonstrations throughout the night, ensuring that volunteers were entertained and well provided for. The center of the field served as a showcase stage for high flying performances from Cho’s Tae Kwon Do and the Greenwich High School Cheer and Dance Teams, as well as zumba and cross-fit classes.
Events like the Greenwich Relay for Life transform the battle against cancer into something tangible, as volunteers come together to share their convictions and reaffirm their efforts. Prior to the opening ceremony, cancer survivors and caregivers were treated to a free meal during a special reception where they were invited to share their personal stories.
Greenwich Hospital Director of Oncology Services Dickerman Hollister addressed the surviors and caregivers during the reception, offering a term he felt was more appropriate than survivor: “victor.” Dr. Hollister was soon joined by his own victor, wife Frankie Hollister, as he revealed that it was the couple’s anniversary.
“This is treatment in action,” he told the group.
Danielle Waring, a teacher at Westhill High School in Stamford and cancer survivor, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2001 at the age of 21. While undergoing treatment at Greenwich Hospital, Ms. Waring met her former GHS classmate and future husband Paulo Bernardo, who was working as an emergency technician at the facility. The two would later be married at the Wilton Relay for Life in 2011. Ms. Waring has been participating in Relay for Life at for 11 years, attending events in Wilton and Ridgefield before hearing about the Greenwich relay.
Each year she makes an effort to bring more students to Relay for Life and expose them to the positivity surrounding the event.
“[Seeing] high school kids who are hanging out and doing things that are positive for the community, and to see them actually happy and enthusiastic excites me,” Ms. Warring said of the youth participation. “I love luminaria, where you get emotional for all the people that you’ve lost, and as a survivor ever year you get a reminder about how lucky you are to be alive. So everytime your year gets really rough I just remember that I have relay and that life is not as bad as it could be, I’m here, I’m alive and I almost wasn’t.”
After an opening ceremony featuring short speeches from Barbara Ward, medical director of Greenwich Hospital’s Breast Cancer Center, and Joesph Barbetta, of the ACS New England Division Board of Directors, survivors and their caretakers led off the first two laps of the relay.
Remembering those who lost their lives in the battle is a major part of Relay for Life as well. The Luminaria Ceremony memorializes those who succumbed to the disease by allowing participants to dedicate a votive candle to their loved ones. The candles line the track during the late night hours of the relay, lighting the path for the runners as they continue.
In another act of rememberance, event Co-Chair Sarah Stempien dedicated the 2014 Relay for Life to her mother Donna Stempien, who succumbed to non-cancer-related health issues in May. A tearful Ms. Stempien recounted her mom’s tireless efforts to raise funds for this year’s relay, despite battling her own medical problems. Though the Stempiens have no family history with cancer, Ms. Stempien believes that her mother is a perfect example of how even those not directly affected by the disease can advocate for cancer research and make a difference.
Ms. Stempien was recruited into the Relay for Life committee four years ago by fellow Co-Chair Stephanie Hicka, who has been a part of the event since its inception. The pair has been integral in the year-by-year growth of the relay, raising over $550,000 for the ACS. Due to a two-year maximum restriction for co-chairs, they will be relinquishing leadership to committee member Kevin Landesman, finance chair Nick Rodriquez and vice chair Kyle McDougall.
Both co-chairs plan to volunteer to help with next year’s planning, albeit on a different scale. Ms. Hicka recently gave birth to twins, and is looking forward to taking a reduced role in the committee as she adjusts to motherhood.
To donate to Greenwich Relay for Life, go online to Relay.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY14NE?fr_id=58816&pg=entry.