The Martha’s Vineyard Relay for Life event gives Islanders the chance to honor friends, family, and coworkers who have suffered from and survived cancer. The 12th annual event, held this past Saturday at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, included the traditional laps around the track, a survivors’ ceremony, and a surprise musical addition.
Rick Hough from Mason, N.H., was the first survivor to speak. Rick, who has generations of Vineyard family, opened the ceremony with the story of his battle with cancer in 2008 and subsequent full recovery. Then emcee Donald Rose introduced 10-year-old Annabelle Brothers, who took the mike to sing her own rendition of the currently popular “Fight Song” (original by Rachel Platten) in a strong, beautiful voice to the crowd.
Her mom, Stephanie Brothers of West Tisbury, told The Times that she and Annabelle have participated in the event each year, having lost two close family members to cancer. “Annabelle found the song on I Heart Radio after hearing it on a regular radio station,” she said. “She immediately said, ‘Someone should sing that song at the Relay for Life!’ And I said, ‘Why not you?’ So I got in touch with Ashley Wills, the community manager for the Relay for Life on the Cape and the Islands, and asked her what she thought. Ashley loved the idea of Annabelle singing, and it just went forward from there.
“I have always loved hearing Annabelle sing,” Stephanie said. “She definitely has talent. Annabelle has a long history of performing at school functions as well as in the summer Island Theatre Workshop productions of The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. This summer, she will perform in The King and I, and she is already practicing, singing around the house ‘Getting to Know You.’”
As for family history, Stephanie’s mother Anne passed away from ovarian cancer in 2003. Annabelle is named after Anne Brothers, even though Stephanie adopted Annabelle in 2006 after her mom had passed away, so they never met. Annabelle was 14 months old when Stephanie, a single mom, brought her from an orphanage in Hunan, China, to live in West Tisbury. Stephanie works for Seven Hills Community Services of Martha’s Vineyard, dedicated to working with mentally handicapped adults in the home environment. She has been working in West Tisbury with the same adult for more than 16 years.
In addition to losing her grandmother to cancer, Annabelle’s aunt and guardian, Bernice Parenti of West Palm Beach, Fla., passed away from breast cancer in 2014, so she and Stephanie walk for Relay for Life in her honor as well.
Annabelle is now a fourth grader at the West Tisbury School, with an amazingly strong voice and presence. She dreams of a career as a performer; she is also an avid and prize-winning swimmer, and last year won the High Point trophy on Nantucket and was accepted to join the USA Regional Swim Team.
Asked how she felt after singing “Fight Song” for Relay for Life, Annabelle responded,
“I was very proud of myself because I think I did a good job. I also like seeing smiling faces when I sing. And I think my Aunt Bernice was smiling down at me too.”
Relay for Life’s mission statement describes the Fight Back Ceremony as symbolizing “the emotional commitment each of us can make in the fight against cancer.” Since it started in 1985, the Relay for Life movement has grown into a worldwide phenomenon, raising nearly $5 billion to fight cancer. The Martha’s Vineyard Relay has been active each year, raising funds for the American Cancer Society for the purpose of research and programs.
Edgartown resident Nicole Gazaille, event chair, reports that over 150 men, women, and children participated in the Relay for Life of Martha’s Vineyard this weekend, raising more than $41,000 from donations. Local programs, which have been created from funding from this event through the American Cancer Society, include the Road to Recovery, which organizes patient rides to treatment centers; and Hope Lodges, a program devoted to create local overnight housing for visiting family members and caregivers while patients undergo treatment.
Relay for Life of Martha’s Vineyard will continue to accept donations through August, and can be reached at relayforlife.org\marthasvineyardma.
Viewers can watch the Fight Back Ceremony featuring speaker Rick Hough and the song by Annabelle Brothers on MVTV broadcast: mvtv.org. Check on demand: Relay for Life.