By Tessa Raebeck
For 12 hours Friday, members of the South Fork community will band together in the fight against cancer, by walking overnight in the Relay for Life event at the Bridgehampton School.
The event, which will be held from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., aims to celebrate survivors, remember those who lost their battle with cancer and fight back against the disease by raising awareness, educating the public on prevention and, ultimately, finding a cure.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody that hasn’t been touched by cancer in one way or another,” said Sharon Wood, a Southampton resident who was 23 when she lost her mother to cancer.
Each year, over four million people in more than 5,200 American neighborhoods and 19 other countries participate in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life events.
“Relay is an emotionally charged event with passionate people who are helping to fuel the mission of the American Cancer Society so we can finish the fight,” noted Diane Nicholson, the community executive for the American Cancer Society’s Suffolk County Eastern Division.
The event is fueled by community participation. Previously held at Southampton Youth Services (SYS), this year the relay is being held at the Bridgehampton School in an effort to involve the entire South Fork community from Southampton to Montauk.
“Bridgehampton School community is strong in their sense of community spirit, and is always willing to give back,” said District Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre. “An opportunity to raise awareness of what the American Cancer Society does to assist those who are affected seemed a very worthy cause to our school community.”
The 12-hour relay symbolizes the ongoing fight against cancer. It kicks off with a celebration of cancer survivors at 5:30 p.m. at the school. Local businesses donate food to a buffet dinner and in the opening ceremony, survivors start the relay.
“It’s really, really incredible,” said Wood. “Then they’re joined by their caregivers and it’s a great way to celebrate their survival and also to celebrate those people who have really dedicated themselves to taking care of the cancer survivors both emotionally and physically.”
Teams, which can have up to 15 participants, are supposed to have a member either walking or running on the track at all times. Teammates take turns rotating through who is walking.
“It’s very symbolic because there’s no finish line until we find a cure. That’s why we walk all day and all night,” said Nicholson.
Sharon Wood’s daughter, Keara, has been participating in the event since she was in fifth grade, honoring her two grandmothers, both of whom she lost to cancer. This year, she is the team captain for KFC (Kids Fighting Cancer), a group made up of high school students from Bridgehampton and Southampton.
“I really enjoy it,” said Keara. “They incorporate a lot of fun activities while you’re there. They have a DJ, they [play games] and they’ll do the electric slide and everyone dances.”
After the initial celebration of cancer survivors, the next component of the relay is remembrance. At 9 p.m. there is a luminary ceremony to honor those who have passed away from cancer.
“It’s really moving,” said Wood. “People purchase bags and “decorate those bags remembering somebody that they’ve lost or want to honor.”
The bags are placed around the track and lit with candles in the luminary ceremony.
Dr. Favre is on the event’s planning committee and will also be a team captain in this year’s relay.
“This is an important event for me personally, as my family has survivors to be celebrated and loved ones to be honored,” she said. “My team has three members on it who were diagnosed before the age of 50 with cancer, and who are currently cancer free — I happen to be one of those survivors.”
“We are happy to be part of the celebration and help to raise funds for a cure,” she added.
As of press time, the Bridgehampton event has raised over $56,500 for the American Cancer Society. Thirty two teams and 275 participants are signed up.
Members of the community are invited to join the festivities from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.