Giving Back

Relay for Life of Berkeley Heights Holds Annual Kickoff Event

Relay for Life of Berkeley Heights co-chair Linda Weber Credits: Jason Cohen
Relay for Life of Berkeley Heights co-chair James Finley Credits: Jason Cohen
Relay for Life of Berkeley Heights cancer survivor and participant Lisa Afflitto Credits: Jason Cohen

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Each year, more than one million people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer, but one fundraiser that helps save many lives is the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

On Wednesday Jan. 30, Berkeley Heights held their annual kickoff event for the relay. In addition to Berkeley Heights, Summit, Mountainside and New Providence participate as well. It is taking place Saturday, June 8 beginning at 3 p.m. at Governor Livingston High School and concludes Sunday June 9 at 7 a.m. and it is the largest Relay for Life in the eastern division of the American Cancer Society.

Co-chairs Linda Weber and James Finley spoke about what people need to know and some misconceptions about the event. Teams are formed of two to 20 people of all ages and they are required to name team captains, attend meetings, fundraise before and at the event and always have a representative walking on the track at all times.

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The walk represents a day in the life of a cancer patient. It begins at sundown with a survivor walk where cancer survivors at the event take the first lap around the track. Relay for Life events also recognize and celebrate caregivers, who give time, love and support to their friends, family, neighbors and coworkers facing cancer.

The luminaria ceremony takes place after dark, so people who lost the fight to cancer can be remembered, honor people who have fought cancer in the past and support those whose fight continues. Candles are lit inside of personalized bags and are placed around the relay track as glowing tributes to those who’ve been affected by cancer.

As the participants become tired and weary and walk into the late hours of the night, it is symbolic of a cancer patient’s fight to live. It concludes with a victory lap, which signifies a person’s survival of cancer and top teams and totals are announced.

“We want you there,” Finley said. “Despite how tired you are, the atmosphere is celebratory.”

Finley, who is a science teacher at New Providence Middle School, got involved four years ago when students in a leadership organization he was running told him about it. He had never heard of it, so he thought it was a relay and wasn’t prepared for a long night, he said. Since then, he has recruited more kids each year and really loves participating in it.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “It’s a wonderful event. It’s going to be epic this year.”

Survivor Lisa Afflitto spoke about her experience with cancer and how it changed her life. At the age of 21, Afflitto was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, underwent treatment and is now cancer-free.

“I always refer to my cancer experience as an easy one,” Afflitto said.

But in 2010 her mother, who was her biggest supporter when she was sick, was told she had late stage small cell lung cancer. Her mom, who was healthy and had never smoked a cigarette, was shocked, she said.

Fortunately, her diagnosis led to genetic testing for the ALK gene, which causes cancer growth and at the same time gene specific treatment for it was being developed. So her mother took advantage of this and has made great progress since.

Afflitto said as she gets ready to participate in Relay for Life, she wants people to never give up in the fight against cancer and know that anyone who was told they have cancer is a survivor.

“My experience as a survivor at relay over the past few years has been a powerful one,” she said.

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