Cancer Society’s Relay for Life campaign kicks off with a party

The 2011 Relay for Life took on a festive atmosphere. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

For the ninth year in a row, Martha’s Vineyard will host the MV Relay for Life in early June, one of almost 6,000 such events worldwide that are part of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraising initiative.

On June 1 and 2, from Friday afternoon until mid-morning Saturday, cancer survivors and their supporters will keep up a continual walk around the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School track and engage in a number of ceremonies and activities. Planning for the event begins this month.

On Tuesday, February 21, the MV Relay for Life committee will host a kick-off party from 5:30 to 7 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club off Third Street in Edgartown to help jumpstart registration and fundraising efforts. “The big thing is to see if we can’t get some new people into it,” committee member Karen Kukolich said.

The party will include the presentation of awards for last year’s top teams and individuals, pictures and a video from the 2011 relay and the announcement of 2012 theme, “Going for the Gold to Find a Cure,” in honor of the 2012 Olympics. The agenda for this year’s event will be discussed. Cake and beverages will be served.

At the core of the event, fundraising teams of approximately 20 individuals are formed to honor a cancer victim or survivor. Team members are encouraged to start planning and soliciting pledges as early as possible. This year, for the first time, teams will be able to accept donations online.

Last year, the MV Relay for Life raised almost $100,000 through the efforts of 28 teams of about 350 participants. This year, the committee hopes to top those numbers and add some new events and activities to the marathon walking event.

The event has the attributes of a big party. Teams set up in colorfully decorated tents around the track, music blares, food vendors supply the hungry crowds, and contests, games, and themed laps keep the marathon from becoming drudgery. “It’s an absolutely wonderful event,” Ms. Kukolich said. “It’s very inspiring. Parts are very serious, but we try to make it light too.”

The survivor lap during which luminarias are placed around the track and the cancer survivors, all dressed in purple, make the loop to deafening cheers, is a highlight. Last year 94 survivors participated in the relay. “If you can’t do anything else, come out when we light the candles and walk the lap,” Ms. Kukolich said. “There’s not anybody who’s not touched by it somehow.”

Committee members are concerned that there is a lack of awareness about the event, in part because the high school track is not highly visible. Chairman Tammy King said, “There are so many things going on on the Island. There are so many people who I talk to who don’t know about it. The main focus is making sure people understand that this is a community event to support people who have been touched by cancer in any way – caregivers, survivors and those who know a victim or a survivor.”

This will be the seventh rally for Ms. King. “The first time I went to the rally I was taken aback by the community,” she said. “This is such a community service. It’s also for caregivers and for people who have lost people. It’s a two-day event where we all come together with this common bond. It’s all such a community effort. I feel not enough people know. Once they go they say, ‘Oh my God. This is amazing.'”