Outside of Glenbrook Gym there is a grill cooking hot dogs, tables lined up for registrants, a man in a purple foam tiara playing bluegrass and rock music on an acoustic guitar as people gathered for the Relay for Life. Held on April 26, the event. by the American Cancer Association (ACS), helps raise money for cancer research and treatment with a 12 hour walkathon. This year marked the first time it was held in all of southern Vermont.
Along the sidewalks and roads between Glenbrook and Huden dining hall, volunteers place small paper bags adorned with art and filled with candles, constructing the path that relayers will walk for twelve hours. Jenny Hill, one of the volunteers explains that they are called luminarias, and each represents a memory.
“People can buy them for people with cancer or in memory of them, and during the relay they’re all lit,” Hill said.
The luminarias were inscribed by the donators. A few had words of encouragement, such as one that read “Lick Cancer” with a crayon drawing of lollipops. Others featured descriptions and fondly-remembered traits, such as “mom, cook, fun, caring.” Most were simply the names of loved ones, placed in honor of survival or remembrance.
Inside the gymnasium each relay team had set up tables for their members to rest in between laps, adorned with banners and the red, blue and purple balloons of the ACS. Some were straight-forward with their naming schemes, going with their school department, like the Women’s Hockey Team. Some had decided to be more creative, with names like Team White Shoes and The Dreamers.
Amy Zabowski and Lauren Cox, members of the Zeta-Omega sorority and coordinators for the Relay for Life at Castleton, began the opening ceremonies.
Zabowski gave a touching speech, reminding all of the personal reasons for their participation.
“Whether you’re a survivor, someone who is caring for someone battling cancer, or someone who cared for a loved one who lost their battle, in some way cancer has touched your life,” she said.
After the opening speeches, all of the cancer survivors and care-givers in attendance were called up to the stage and given the honor of first lap around the luminary path, accompanied by inspiring music.
Many people had come to the Relay to show support for friends and co-workers at school who were battling with the disease. Deb Thomas, a professor of Nursing, had come not only to honor her family members that had fought cancer, but for the three Nursing department faculty who had been diagnosed.
“I think it’s wonderful we’re bringing the event to campus,” she said. “I hope it gets bigger every year.”
Thomas and her four-year-old daughter, Carlie, had also donated lengths of hair that night for the Locks of Love organization, which makes wigs and toupees for chemotherapy patients. “For me, it’s giving back,” Thomas said.
All of the survivors who came that night were grateful for what was being given.
“It gives cancer patients better treatment and care because of the research it provides,” said Sarah Catanese, a 24-year-old Castleton student diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a type of lymphoma.
She summed up her appreciation for the Relay quite succinctly.
“Events like this is what saved my life,” she said
Near the mid-way portion of the night, the Zeta-Omega committee that organized the event called for a pause, beginning the lighting of the luminaries outside.
Standing on the stage in Glenbrook Gym the girls read off the names of all individuals with cancer who had been honored along the path, and their candles were lit. It was a stirring moment, and many tears were shed.
And yet, as the night went on, the relay walkers are all in high spirits, dancing and singing along with the pop music playing.
Despite the heavy nature of this event’s cause and the way this disease has touched their lives, the participants did not let it bring them down. The Relay for Life is, after all, about hope as a well as remembrance.