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The 2018 Relay for Life of Newtown kicked off its annual 12-hour fundraiser at Newtown High School’s Blue & Gold Stadium on the evening of June 16.
While the night’s Relay teams prepared their tents along the turf field, local cancer survivors and caregivers were celebrated at a special reception and were treated to lunch, dessert, and a raffle. Each honoree received a gift bag with a personalized handwritten card from a Newtown High School student and a candle with the words “I am hope” on the glass container.
At the start of the opening ceremony, at 5 pm, Newtown High School senior Liza Tananbaum sang the national anthem as everyone turned to face the American Flag across the stadium.
Cancer survivor, Newtown Bee Associate Editor, and Relay For Life emcee John Voket encouraged the night’s participants to download the Relay for Life app and remind family and friends that there was still time to donate.
“When we raise money through the Relay For Life of Newtown, we help the American Cancer Society touch the lives of so many — those who are currently battling cancer, those who may face a diagnosis in the future, and those who may avoid a diagnosis altogether,” he explained.
Relay Co-Chair Gayle DiBenedetto added that those who have faced or are facing cancer would have their names written on luminaria bags later that night. She asked that when everyone made their lamps, they take the time to remember the lives of those affected by cancer.
Fellow Relay Co-Chair Chris Farrington thanked all those who have been involved — from business donors to longtime or first-time participants — in helping be one step closer to finding a cure for cancer.
All funds raised from Relay For Life go towards The American Cancer Society’s mission to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer.
Relay Co-Chair Tracy Broomer told the audience, “Whether you know it or not, everyone here has been helped by the American Cancer Society. You have been helped by ACS if you or someone you know have ever taken the drugs Tamoxifen or Gleevec, if you or someone you know have had a colonoscopy… mammogram, Pap test, or prostate exam, or if you or someone you know have enjoyed a smoke-free restaurant and indoor space.”
A recipient of those life-saving benefits is Sandy Hook resident and cancer survivor Amy DeLoughy.
“I have been involved in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life for many years, but I never thought I would personally be receiving a benefit of those efforts,” Ms DeLoughy said during the opening ceremony.
She spoke of how she will never forget August 1, 2016, because it was the day her doctor told her that she had breast cancer. She remembers leaving the office “in a complete state of worry” and being unsure of how to tell her family the news.
When she did tell her three children, she assured them that they would face the obstacle and “not let cancer win.”
Later that month, she had surgery to remove the cancer and did radiation treatments — all without ever missing a day of work or teaching dance lessons.
Today, she is cancer free and attended Relay For Life with her family under the team Breast Friends that her niece Brianna Linden started.
Cancer has changed her life in so many ways, she said, and now she makes sure to “treat each day as the gift that it is.”
Nearly a dozen teams came out to Relay for Life to continue raising money for the cause.
Mother and daughter duo Cyndy and Emma Stierle were part of Team Resiliency, whose tent was adorned with colorful splatter paint balloons. Emma, a junior at Newtown High School, started the team last year and helped raise money selling WrenHouse Atelier soy candles and conducting a raffle at the event.
The neighboring tent, Relay Team Friends For Life, sold handmade bracelets and key-chains with Ben’s Bells’ kindness coins attached to them.
Friends For Life member Faith O’Hara said she was inspired to participate in Relay For Life and have a team this year because a lot of her family has been affected by cancer, and she wanted to be part of helping make a difference.
Also in their first year of fundraising for Relay For Life was Team Once Upon A Cure, which consisted of nearly a dozen Newtown High School freshmen. Each member was adorned with a tutu, boa, and sparkly face paint while they raised money doing henna and face paint.
Near the goal post at the Blue & Gold Stadium was Team SuperGirlz, whose members tie-dyed more than 50 shirts. The team of Newtown High School juniors and freshmen was in its fifth year at Relay For Life and was titled the third highest fundraising team, with Newtown Savings Bank in second and Cascade’s Crusaders in first.
Later in the evening, the 2018 Relay For Life’s theme “Light the Night” could be seen throughout the stadium in creative ways.
One way was during the Luminaria Ceremony & Slideshow, where the perimeter of the track was lit up by commemorative luminaria bags.
Megan McGrady said each bag illuminating the track represented individuals with their own unique story.
“They are our mothers, our fathers, our sisters, our brothers, our sons, our daughters, our friends, and our loved ones,” Ms McGrady said. “We love these people; we remember them, we celebrate them, and we fight back against this disease for them.”
Before starting the traditional Moment of Silence Lap, participants were given glowsticks to crack and carry as they walked the track.
“Let each step be in remembrance of our experiences and those special people we’ve shared them with, a celebration of today and of those with us on the track and in our hearts, and a step forward in our fight back toward a brighter tomorrow,” Ms Broomer said.
After starting the event with $42,246 raised, the 2018 Relay For Life proved it made every step count and brought its total to roughly $47,000 by the following morning.