CANCER SURVIVORS gather on the track at Northeast Metro Tech for the first lap of the 2022 Wakefield Relay For Life. (Mark Sardella Photo)
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — For the first time in three years, the Wakefield Relay For Life returned to the track at Northeast Metro Tech as an outdoor event last weekend. The COVID-19 pandemic precluded live Relay events in 2020 and 2021.
Relay For Life is a community-based fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. Each year, more than 5,000 Relay For Life events take place in over twenty countries. Events are held in local communities, university campuses and in virtual campaigns.
The Wakefield Relay For Life event lead was Deb Ameele, who welcomed participants as the opening ceremonies got underway on Friday.
“I am so proud to be standing her with all of you tonight,” Ameele said, “doing what other Relay participants in more than 5,000 communities across our country and across the world are doing. You are joining forces with millions of people worldwide who want to save lives. We want to make a difference in the fight against cancer and we are doing that. You are doing that.”
Ameele reminded those in attendance that cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease.
Wakefield Town Council vice chair Jonathan Chines brought the greetings of the town to the event. Having spent his professional career in the health care field, Chines said that a couple of years ago he had the opportunity to help open a cancer center in Worcester.
“For me, that really hammered home all of the real ways that cancer diagnoses affect not only the cancer patients but their families,” Chines said. “It affects all of a family’s lives and requires so much of the caregivers that our survivors depend on each and every day.
“What you are doing is providing hope for patients, survivors and caregivers by showing that no one is facing cancer alone,” Chines said. “We’re all here with you and we’ve got your back.”
Keynote speaker Cathy Pepe spoke of her own and her family’s battles with cancer. She said that when her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, it made her realize that she had to do something to help. She started joining events like breast cancer walks and learned about the various factors involved in a cancer diagnosis.
“The more I learned,” she said, “the more it motivated me to raise more money.”
When her brother-in-law and a dear friend lost their battles with cancer within weeks of each other in 2008, it reinforced her determination to find a cure and spread awareness about cancer.
Then, Pepe’s brother was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, she recalled, followed by her own breast cancer diagnosis three months later. Five months after that, her younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I walk to raise money to help those who are undergoing treatment and for research so that others don’t have to go through this,” Pepe said.
Pepe then lit the Flame of Hope as cancer survivors officially kicked off the 2022 Wakefield Relay For Life by taking the first lap around the track. Survivors and caregivers were then invited to the Survivors’ Tent to enjoy a dinner provided by Angelo’s Ristorante of Stoneham.
The Relay For Life continued until 6 a.m. Saturday morning, with various activities taking place throughout the night as participants continued to walk for a cure.
As the American Cancer 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.
A Relay For Life event is organized and implemented by local volunteers. It often spans all day and night in a large outdoor space and many people bring tents and camp out around the walking tracks. Currently, almost 4 million people take part in Relay events in over 5,000 communities in the United States.
It is estimated that Relay For Life events have raised nearly $5 billion to date.