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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Relay For Life : Steps Of Hope

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, May 17, 2006

North Adams - Hopes, prayers, tears and smiles will merge at Noel Field on May 19 when a Northern Berkshire "Relay For Life" steps off at 6 p.m. with a survivor lap.

Cancer survivor Pat Mancuso is expected to lead the lap, and event advisor Mary Robert, a long-time American Cancer Society volunteer and an employee of the Berkshire Health System, will be among those cheering the survivors as they walk.

The relay will conclude on May 20.

"My Dad Walks The Survivor Lap"

Cancer has been an almost constant presence within Robert's family. The illness claimed the lives of her mother, a sister and a step-sister, she said during a May 17 interview.

Her father and another step-sister are cancer survivors, she said.

"My dad walks the survivor lap," she said. "Only the survivors walk that lap, they are the only ones who do it. Everyone else cheers them on. The survivor lap can be a very, very moving thing."

The fundraising overnight outdoor walk around a track will go on even if the skies pour rain, Robert said.

Forging Ahead, Lighting The Way

"Cancer patients don't get to pick and choose their cancer or how they will deal with their cancer," she said. "Cancer doesn't give choices.The least we can do is forge ahead no matter what the weather."

"Relay For Life" is much more than a hours-long walk, said Robert.

"The relay serves a multitude of purposes for the community," she said. "This offers a chance to celebrate those who have survived cancer and those who are in the midst of their survival. This can be a life-changing event for anyone, and especially for those who have cancer or who have just been diagnosed."

For those who are battling cancer, the event may inspire courage and hope. For those who have lost a loved on to the illness, event participation can bring comfort, Robert said.

"There are moments, especially during the luminary ceremony, that inspire a healing process," she said.

The Northern Berkshire event is chaired by North Adams Regional Hospital radiology/imaging department technician Donna Blair and Donna Briggs, who is employed at G.E. Plastics. Adams Town Clerk Paul Hutchinson will serve as master of ceremonies, and Mancuso is expected to offer welcoming remarks prior to the survivor lap.

Stephanie Bosley is scheduled to sing the National Anthem and city Mayor John Barrett III and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary K. Grant are expected to join Ray Smith during the opening ceremony.

A "cancer awareness team" will be on hand to provide education and prevention information. While cancer takes many forms and claims many lives, there has been much progress over the past decade and survival rates for many cancers are growing, Robert said.

"We've come such a long way with how we talk about cancer, with how we treat and approach cancer," she said.

Relay Events

A bevy of activities and events are set to provide entertainment as the relay progresses during Friday evening. A children's carnival featuring arts and crafts and games including "quarterback toss," and "golf challenge," and diversions such as a "money tornado" are part of the carnival agenda. Outdoor movies are scheduled to begin at 10 p.m..

A luminaria ceremony will be held beginning at 9 p.m. with master of ceremonies Bill Popp. Speakers include the Rev. Carrie Bail, Vincent Melito and Julius Cookis.

Karaoke, salsa dancing, a midnight "Mr. Relay" and "Miss Relay" pageant and a 7 p.m. caregiver relay walking lap are included on the agenda.

May 20 events include massages offered from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at a tent to be staffed by Mildred Elley students. A 9 a.m. breakfast will be free to cancer survivors; all others may enjoy the meal sponsored by the Cup and Saucer cafe for $2.50. Breakfast revenues will be donated to the relay fundraiser.

The children's carnival will re-open at 9 a.m. and conclude at 11 a.m., and a "field day" is scheduled to get underway at 8:30 a.m.. Field day events include a sawdust pit, egg, sack, and three-legged races, and an opportunity for children to walk a relay lap with prize ribbons.

A closing ceremony is scheduled to begin at 11:20 a.m. and is expected to include remarks from Blair and Briggs.

Over 4,000 communities host a "Relay for Life" on a yearly basis across the country, and most are scheduled during May and June. One exception is a March event held on a Vermont ski slope, Robert noted. A Central and Southern Berkshires "Relay for Life" is scheduled June 16-17. Robert and Tricia Puntin of Dalton are the event co-chairwomen.

The First Steps

The relay fundraiser began 21 years ago in Tacoma, Washington, when colorectal surgeon Dr. Gordy Klatt decided to raise money for a local American Cancer Society chapter.

Klatt, a marathon runner, spent 24 hours running a Baker Stadium [at the University of Pugeot Sound] track and, through the donations of friends and family members, generated $27,000 for the local ACS office.

Under Klatt's leadership, the first team relay event, titled "The City of Destiny Classic 24-Hour Run Against Cancer" was held in 1986 with 19 participating teams.

Additional information about the Northern Berkshire and the Central and Southern Berkshire "Relay For Life" events may be acquired by visiting www.iberkshires.com and selecting the "Relay For Life" link on the iberkshires homepage.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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