The American Cancer Society's very first Relay for Life on Long Island was held in Massapequa June 1 and 2, thanks to Massapequa resident Michelle Churba.
The inspirational "Survivor's Lap" kicks off the Relay for Life. Photos by Jessica DeStefano and Robert Anderson
At age 11, Michelle was diagnosed with bone cancer. She had to undergo bone replacement surgery, difficult and painful treatments and a full year of aggressive chemotherapy. Today, Michelle is a 17-year-old senior at Massapequa High School, and is actively involved with the school's cancer club, "Chiefs C.A.R.E." (Cancer, Awareness, Resources, Education). Looking for the club to become more involved in the fight against cancer, Michelle petitioned her school board to allow Massapequa High School to host a Relay for Life. Her persistence and hard work paid off.
"The purpose of the Relay for Life is twofold," explained Luke Davis, director of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. "To raise money and to raise awareness for American Cancer Society programs. Many of the participants are cancer survivors. Their involvement is a testament to the fact that a survivor can have a wonderful future after cancer treatment and stands as proof of the progress that has been made in cancer cure rates."
The Massapequa Relay for Life was one of 58 relays planned in New York and more than 3,000 nationwide. Individuals and teams made up of local businesses, friends, families, hospitals, churches and clubs camped out and walked or ran around the Massapequa High School track "relay" style to fight cancer. Funds raised went to support cancer research, education, advocacy and patient services in the community.
The focal point of the Relay was the survivors' lap and the luminaria ceremony. Although skies were threatening to rain, the "lap of hope" went off without a hitch at 7 p.m. It was an emotional moment for those on the sidelines as dozens of cancer survivors of all ages made their way around the track for the inspiring opening lap. Later on, an evening candlelight vigil was held to remember loved ones who had succumbed to the disease, and to honor those who triumphed over it. The donation for each individually dedicated luminaria candle was $10.
As the 16-hour overnight celebration progressed, the atmosphere became festive as participants listened to live entertainment, played trivia games, went on a scavenger hunt, and tried to stay awake until breakfast was served at 7 a.m. the next morning.
"It was very exciting to bring our first Relay on Long Island to Massapequa this year," said Dee McCabe, American Cancer Society regional executive for Nassau County. "The funds raised in this event will enable us to continue our investment in the fight against cancer through educational programs, research and patient services."