In its 14th year, the American Cancer Society’s annual Relay for Life united cancer survivors and caregivers Island-wide, and remembered those we have lost to cancer, through fundraising for future cancer research and provision of care.
Under spitting skies, a group of more than 100 dedicated and determined Vineyarders gathered at Waban-Alley Park in preparation for the 14th annual Relay for Life. In past years, the relay has always been held at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School; however, due to the recent discussions regarding the possibility of constructing a turf field at the high school, the committee was unable to secure the location. For this reason, the relay was relocated to Waban-Alley Park in Oak Bluffs, and walkers ventured out along the State Beach bike path to complete a nine-mile loop. Along the way, volunteers set up tables at both bridges to hand out water. An array of generously donated snacks and supplies awaited walkers upon their return to Waban-Alley Park.
Following an introductory ceremony, walkers set off into the light rain. The spirit of the crowd was in no way dampened by the weather, though some walkers did get creative and fashion ponchos out of trash bags to ward off the cold. Sisters Phaedra BenDavid and Heidi Medeiros set a smart pace, and led the stretched processional out of town and alongside the pond. As many neared mile two, the rain cleared, and spirits rose ever higher. I caught up with Ms. BenDavid and Ms. Medeiros crossing the first bridge, just as the sun regained kingdom in the sky. Ms. BenDavid felt that the views “couldn’t get better than this,” while appreciating the increased visibility of the event, and Ms. Medeiros agreed that the seaside walk was preferable to the track.
This is a very special event each year, as it brings together a group of extremely resilient and spirited people, all of whom have been touched by cancer in some way, and are determined to increase cancer research and funding for the provision of care.
Ursula Kreskey, a cancer survivor and dedicated relay participant for the past eight years, mentioned how important it is for her to be a part of this community, and see friends and familiar faces at the event every year. “I’ve met some beautiful people here,” she said of the Vineyard, having lived here since 2003. Despite having had cancer herself and later losing her husband to the disease, Ms. Kreskey radiated positivity when we spoke during the relay. She expressed tremendous gratitude for the time she was able to share with her husband, and shared her philosophy, “Always stay positive and focus on what you already have.” For those directly affected, she added, “You can use that to build something new. That’s my philosophy.”
For many, the relay is a space to honor the people that we have lost to cancer. It is a space for people to hold each other up and support one another in the face of tremendous adversity. The community is tender, open, and full of love. The coordinator of the event, Nicole Gazaille, is the epitome of this spirit. This was Ms. Gazaille’s third year coordinating the relay, and her 13th year involved. She acknowledged that cancer is a reality for everyone, because it affects everyone in some way. She leads the event with confidence and organization, but more important, with compassion and heart. She told me, “I do this to honor those fighting, my mother being one.” I had the opportunity to stop by the Gazaille family tent, and I was quickly ushered in out of the rain by siblings Sheila Baird, Donna Gazaille, and David Berube. The Gazaille family is a strong backbone of this event.
As darkness fell over the crowd, everyone gathered to light luminarias in remembrance of deceased family members and friends. The event was organized to conclude at 10 pm, as the darkness is intentionally symbolic of the fear that cancer patients experience and the notion that cancer does not sleep. The group gathered for a closing ceremony to recognize the strength and resilience of the crowd, and the hard work and dedication of volunteers, the event committee, and the event coordinator, Nicole Gazaille.