Published in the June 18, 2018 edition.


WAKEFIELD — The weather for Friday’s 19th annual Relay For Life of Wakefield was a far cry from the cold, steady rain of last year’s event. While a few afternoon showers led to some fears of a repeat of last year’s washout, by the time the opening ceremonies got underway, the sun was shining brightly and the temperature was close to 70 degrees at the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School track facility.

Event lead and master of ceremonies Elaine Silva welcomed the hundreds in attendance for the 6 p.m. opening ceremonies.

“Today we are here to celebrate all those who have battled cancer,” Silva said, “our survivors, our loved ones lost – and to take action to save lives.”

Silva introduced Anna Sarcinelli from the American Cancer Society.

“I’ve been doing Relay since I was three years old,” she said, “and I have never seen a Survivors’ Tent set up so beautifully.”

The a cappella group Harborlight Show Chorus next performed the National Anthem.

Silva then called upon Tony Longo of the Wakefield Town Council to bring the greetings from the town of Wakefield. A four-and-a-half-year cancer survivor, Longo said that in order to get through his 39 rounds of chemotherapy it took “great care, determination and a sense of humor.”

Longo shared some of those moments of levity with the crowd on Friday. Like the time he was at Mass. General Hospital hooked up to a chemo bag when his wife phoned and told him she was planning a family trip for six months down the road.

Under the circumstances, Longo questioned his wife on the wisdom of such long-range planning.

“Relax,” she told him. “You’ll be fine. Besides, we can take your father. You have the same name.”

Longo thanked those in attendance “for everything you do for a cure. Without your hard work, there could be a different speaker tonight.”

Silva introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Jamie McKenzie a medical oncologist at Lahey Health Cancer Institute.

McKenzie said that she has been an oncologist for nine years and this was her first Relay. She talked about the history of Relay For Life. It was started In May 1985, when Dr. Gordon Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, Washington, decided he wanted to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Because he enjoyed marathons, Klatt walked around a track at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma for 24 hours. Throughout the night, friends paid $25 to run or walk 30 minutes with him. He walked approximately 83 miles and raised $27,000 for cancer research.

“The next year,” McKenzie said, “200 people joined him, and that’s where this all took off.”

McKenzie reminded those in attendance that they were part of an effort in 5,000 communities worldwide that has to date raised over $5 billion for cancer research.

“There are now 15-and-a-half million cancer survivors in the United States,” she said, adding that the number is expected to grow to over 20 million in the next 10 years.

“In my journey helping patients fight cancer, I have found the courage, determination, attitude and spirit that all my patients and their loved ones bring to this fight so inspiring,” she said. “I have more appreciation for life than I’ve ever known and a stronger sense of purpose with each patient that I get to take care of.”

Silva recognized the 2018 Relay For Life of Wakefield leadership team. In addition to herself “the amazing eight” are Amy Walsh, Debbie Ameele, Kerrie Mulkerin, Lisa Ventura, Sabrina Torra, Dori-Ann Delatizky, Claire Brown and Bill Brown.

The 2018 Relay For Life of Wakefield then officially got underway with the Survivors and Caregivers Lap followed by the survivors’ and caregivers’ dinner under the Survivors’ tent sponsored by The Savings Bank and catered by Housecalls Catering.

The traditional “Luminaria” ceremony got underway at 9 p.m. with lit candles lining the track in memory of individuals lost to cancer.

The Relay For Life of Wakefield continued all night until the 8 a.m. closing ceremony on Saturday. Over the course of the 15-hour event, there were dance performances, karate demonstrations, a scavenger hunt, a movie and many other activities.

Relay For Life is a community-based fundraising event of 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 worlds. 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.