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By Lisa Moore
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
On May 21 and 22, residents from Dedham, Needham and Wellesley participated in the annual Relay for Life, the signature fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. This year, participants raised over $158,000 to support the efforts of the American Cancer Society, surpassing last year’s total by over $10,000. This year, the top fundraising team was the Wellesley High School Raiders, who collected $15,003.
Needham High School seniors Meredith Saunders and Peter Goldberg were the event leaders and kicked off this year’s relay by telling the participants why they relay was important, sharing personal stories of loved ones and their fights with cancer. Saunders told the crowd: “I relay to support cancer patients, celebrate cancer survivors, give hope to those touched by cancer, and help the American Cancer Society fund ground breaking research.”
Goldberg added, “There are over one million new cases diagnosed each year. Everyone is touched by cancer. I relay for all those who fought cancer and survived.”
The Relay for Life event helps spread awareness, raise funds used to support important cancer research, and provide services and programs for those battling cancer, their loved ones, and caregivers. Hope Lodge is an example of one of the many programs funded by the American Cancer Society. There are several Hope Lodges around the country, providing cancer patients and their loved ones with a home away from home during lengthy cancer treatments.
Dr. Mark Goldberg, who is on the board of the New England Division of the ACS, spoke to participants about the impact of losing his mother to cancer. “Almost all of us have 1 degree of separation from cancer.” He noted that science has come a long way in how we treat cancer patients and their loved ones, and that the ACS’s hope is to eliminate cancer in this century with initiatives like raising tobacco taxes, raising the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 and the “National Cancer Moonshot Initiative,” led by Vice President Joe Biden, which aims to accelerate cancer research and make more therapies available to more patients while improving our ability to prevent cancer and detect it earlier.
Luke Webber, keynote speaker and cancer survivor, gave an impassioned speech detailing his struggle in his own fight against cancer. He told participants about how a clinical immunotherapy trial for the rare form of cancer he had changed his life and has given him hope. Since participating in the immunotherapy trial, Luke has been cancer free for 4 years. “People like you raise money for the research to help fight cancer. You are making miracles.”
At the conclusion of opening speeches, Webber led other cancer survivors around the track for the “Survivors Lap.” After, participants joined survivors, and the relay was underway. Participants walked, jogged, or ran laps around the track, staying through the night and into the morning. The overnight walk was a symbol for how cancer never sleeps.
The atmosphere was upbeat and festive, akin to a large tailgate party. There was a great tug of war event held where officers from the police departments of each town, Needham, Dedham and Wellesley, competed against each other and other youth teams. In the evening, there was a moving ceremony in which luminary candles dedicated to loved ones lost and those still battling against cancer were lit around the track, illuminating the path for the walkers through the night. Teams from Dedham, Needham, and Wellesley set up tents and lawn chairs on the field and team members kept up the overnight vigil in shifts. When asked why they relay, the overwhelming response was that they relay for a loved one. Anyone interested in donating, or getting involved in next year’s Relay for Life can visit www.relayforlife.org.