The walk of life

24Jun16

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By MARK SARDELLA

They came to celebrate life and they came to reaffirm a commitment to defeat cancer.

And they came to walk.

More than 1,000 people made their way to the athletic field at Northeast Metro Tech on Friday, June 17, 2016 for Wakefield’s Relay For Life. They included cancer survivors, caregivers and participants in 53 teams as well as other supporters.

Before the event ended, they had raised more than $100,000 for the American Cancer Society.

The 17th annual Wakefield Relay was one of more than 5,000 Relay For Life events taking place in over twenty countries. Events are held in local communities, college campuses and in virtual worlds. As the American relay16_buddCancer Society’s most successful fundraiser and the organization’s signature event, the mission of Relay For Life is to raise funds to improve cancer survival, decrease the incidence of cancer, and improve the quality of life for cancer patients and their caretakers.

“Relay For Life is not just a fundraiser to support the American Cancer Society’s lifesaving mission to help people stay well and get well,” Master of Ceremonies Julie Budd told those gathered for the opening ceremonies. “We are here today to celebrate. This celebration of life brings the community together in a unified effort to fight cancer.”

relay16_wongBudd introduced State Rep. Donald Wong, who spoke of losing his father to cancer several years ago.

“Cancer doesn’t discriminate by age,” Wong told the crowd, thanking them for coming out to support the cause. “It could be your dollar that is the dollar that finds the cure.”

relay16_brodeu2rRep. Paul Brodeur also praised those who participate in the Relay For Life.

“You folks get it,” he said, assuring cancer survivors and their caregivers, “The community stands with you.”

Wakefield selectmen and cancer survivor Tony Longo told the story of his battle with cancer.

He said that on Oct. 29, 2013, he ran seven miles in under an hour. A week later, Longo said that he and his wife were in an oncologist’s office getting the news that he had cancer and it had spread throughout his body, including his lungs and abdomen.

He was advised to get his affairs in order.

On Nov. 18, 2013, Longo said, he began an aggressive nine-week treatment program at Mass. General, sometimes taking three treatments a day. He quickly lost all of his hair.

“There were no Christmas pictures that year,” he said.

“During those nine weeks and the weeks and months that followed,” Longo recalled, “my family and I saw all the good that Wakefield had to offer: all of the food dropped off at the house, all of the times our driveway was shoveled. They were right there for us all the way.

“Four days after my last treatment, I went to the gym and ran three miles,” Longo said “It was by no means my fastest time. I was bald, skinny and had the skin tone of ash. It was my dance on the grave of cancer, and not vice versa.

“We are not survivors,” Longo declared. “Cancer could not survive us.”

relay_darcyDarcy Corrigan of the American Cancer Society noted that since the ACS was founded in 1913, “People have been drawn together by one very simple but urgent need: to stop cancer from hurting or destroying our lives. And it’s working.”

Featured speaker Mary McKenzie told her story of surviving breast cancer.

As a registered nurse, she said that she always went for her mammograms. One year, they saw a spot. She had had biopsies before, she said, and they were always negative so she wasn’t concerned.

But this time it was stage 1 breast cancer. It was caught early.

relay_mckenzie“I was lucky,” she said. “I didn’t need chemo.” She did have radiation treatments, she said, and her subsequent checkups have all been good.

McKenzie urged women to go for their scheduled mammograms.

“Having a mammogram saved my life,” she said.

Budd assured those in attendance that what they were doing mattered.

“Your presence tonight is changing the world,” she said, “and represents the creation of hope for millions.”

Budd then invited all cancer survivors and their caregivers to the starting line on the track that encircles the field for the “Survivors’ Victory Lap,” officially kicking off the 2016 Relay For Life.

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As survivors walked, supporters lined the entire length of the track and applauded those who had beaten cancer.

Survivors and caregivers were then invited to the main tent for a dinner provided by House Calls Catering of Wakefield and sponsored by The Savings Bank.

Relay for Life events continued all night until the closing ceremony at 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning.

[This story originally appeared in the June 20 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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