Those lost to cancer were remembered: “To my lovely sister who I miss so much, I love you,” said one handwritten message on the Wall of Remembrance displayed during this year’s 2014 Relay for Life on May 31, its tenth in Newtown. The message continues, “You are missed every day.”
Pictures of brothers, sisters, and other family members are written on the wall, with many messages to grandma or grandma drawn by a child’s unpracticed hand.
Among the remembrances and prayers said for those who have died of cancer were the words of hope and encouragement offered to survivors and those still fighting their cancer battles.
Survivors carried the Relay For Life banner around Newtown High School’s track inside the Blue & Gold Stadium, that first lap kicking off the 12-hour event. Emma DeFlumeri, 16, ran to her father Jack DeFlumeri’s side for a hug as he walked. He is a prostate and throat cancer survivor, she said.
Emma remembers being just 2 years old when his struggle began. Now, 14 years later and with her father by her side, she said, “I am so proud of him. He is my best friend.” Watching her father as he walked the survivors’ lap, she said, “He is really strong and a good person. He inspires me.”
Later talking with Emma as the first lap concluded was three-time survivor Rose Mary Sivertson, who experienced bouts of cancer in 1993, 1995, and 2005. On the day of the Relay she felt good, she said, and offered the advice: “Get your mammograms, that’s what found it every time.” Although her family does not live in the area, she said the town as a whole really helped.
Minutes before the first lap of this year’s Relay, Honorary Chair Mary Ann Jacob told the crowd her story. Soon celebrating five years cancer-free, she said, “I’m here tonight representing all survivors.” She recounted the day in 2009 when she “felt a lump and it didn’t go away.” She remembers telling her sister what she had found, and an ensuing surgery and ultrasound, and her doctor’s words: “It’s not normal breast tissue.” It needed to come out, he told her. At 46, with young children, her hair was soon falling out and she received a lumpectomy.
Doctors had done everything they could, and rather than worry, she has chosen to go and live her life, she said.
During her fight, she said, “I was held up by kindness and love of others.” Glancing across the crowd, she said, “Let’s give a hand for the caregivers.”
Ms Jacob also spoke special words who those who fought the fight before her. Ms Jacob said her father had died of cancer. “Back then if the cancer didn’t kill you, the treatments did.” Her father had volunteered for early forms of treatment, and throughout, her parents both taught Ms Jacob a lesson she remembered as she dealt with her own cancer. “I learned from my parents and it helped me talk with my children,” she said. “[Her parents] were open and honest.” She said, “Be honest with your children,” who can often imagine things “far worse,” she said.
She expressed her gratitude to her husband and sons, and friends, “for the kindness that comes from this journey.”
Hundreds of team members, survivors, and caregivers took to the track throughout the night, many expressing how glad they were to be back at the high school after a few years staging at Fairfield Hills while construction carried on at the NHS facility.
From the first pre-event performance by Emily Digerolomo to the lively trimming of Beautiful Lengths — highlighted by Kat Holick, the “Dancing Crossing Guard” — through the moving performance of recording artist Gregori Lukas, an impromptu Zumba class with NYA Sports & Fitness staffers Melissa Boyles and Amy Krasowski, and the zany Miss Relay competition, there was a little something for everyone.
Even late-night activities like the limbo and pajama laps, a chilly frozen T-shirt contest, a scavenger hunt, and water race were all well attended despite rapidly dropping temperatures at the stadium.
The event not only paid tribute to many, many survivors, Newtowners who have lost the fight, and local caregivers who supported them, the 2014 Relay featured a somber memorial lap honoring the Sandy Hook School community during which most participants donned the school’s colors.
The Relay was bittersweet for many, and not without fleeting but touching moments. They included a speech by 2014 Honorary Caregiver Jim Zarifis.
He talked about the long road to recovery he and his family made with his son, James, who was 11 years old at the time he was diagnosed with a brain tumor caused by medulloblastoma.
Embodying a party theme, virtually all Relay teams cooperated using appropriate decor at their various tent sites. And as of Monday, June 2, organizers said approximately 500 team members and sponsors generated more than $128,000 for the cause.