BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - It was a night of celebration and remembrance, with hopes that the future would hold more of the former than the latter. The thirteenth annual Relay for Life was held at Governor Livingston High School on Saturday night into Sunday morning, as a joint effort from Berkeley Heights, Mountainside, New Providence, and Summit.
The Relay for Life of Berkeley Heights has the most participation of the Eastern Division, consisting of New Jersey and New York, and this was clearly on display Saturday night. 908 participants on 106 teams contributed to the $260,324 of funds raised to date [not including tally from the evening's contributions and continuing donations] for the American Cancer Society. Over the past three years, the Relay for Life of Berkeley Heights has raised over $1.2 million in donations.
This year’s event also marked a tremendous milestone for one of the stalwarts of the Relay for Life of Berkeley Heights, Cathy Pitingolo. This was her tenth year of Relay and serving as captain of the Krabby Patties, which has raised more than $100,000 over the past decade.
First diagnosed in 2004 with breast cancer, Pitingolo became involved with Relay for Life only when the babysitter of her children invited her to come to a meeting as a survivor. Even still, her involvement with Relay for Life did not start out because of her own diagnosis.
“When I got to the meeting, and heard what Relay was all about, I actually did it because I lost both of my parents to cancer. It was because of them that I got involved, not myself.”
Her involvement has become integral in sustaining the growth of Relay for Life in Berkeley Heights. During the opening ceremony and the recognition of Pitingolo, co-chair of the event Linda Weber asked all of those associated with Pitingolo to come down from the audience. Dozens of people flooded to the front, of all ages, all with the common link to the involvement of Relay for Life through Pitingolo. On just her team alone, Pitingolo estimated that there have been over forty participants throughout the years as members of the Krabby Patties.
Relay for Life has also become one of the main events for the community to come together, with many local businesses from the four participating towns lending their services. Weber attributes much of this to the ability of the participants themselves to incorporate this tremendous community involvement: “The teams go out and reach out to the community to bring them in.”
Along with the terrific assistance from the participants, the planning of this event is a tremendous undertaking. It is the fourth year of leading the planning committee for Weber, a nearly yearlong process for the over forty members of the committee. What they do not lack, however, is motivation.
“My mother-in-law was a skin cancer survivor,” Weber explained. “But then a couple of years after we became involved my father became a prostate cancer survivor, then my father-in-law became a prostate cancer survivor, and then my mother became a uterine cancer. All four of my children’s grandparents are cancer survivors, and every year it seems like I lose a friend to cancer.”
For this reason, Pitingolo and many others join together in hopes of one day finding a cure for cancer.
Shannon Vick relays as a young mother and a survivor. Vick was 27 weeks pregnant with her fourth child, finding a lump. "My doctor said we have a plan for you and the outlook is good -- there was no other acceptable options than 'good'", said Vick. "I have four children under the age of five and one I hadn't even met yet. There was no way that I was going to let them grow up without a mother. I was ready to do whatever I had to do to get healthy."
"Unfortunately, my story is becoming far too common. Breast cancer can happen to anyone -- young, old, family history or not," said Vick. "It is so important to be proactive and not to take the stand -- it won't be me. Do your self exams. Don't be afraid of what you will find. Be afraid of what you won't find, if you don't look."
"I walk tonight for the hope that my children will never hear the words, 'you have cancer', and I walk with the hope that we will find a cure," said Vick.
“Continuing to fight year after year is important; doing it for a real reason and a real purpose is what it’s all about” Pitingolo said. “There is really something behind it, and a reason to continue.”
It is not too late to contribute to Relay for Life of Berkeley Heights, donations will be accepted through the summer by visiting the event website www.relay.ascevents.org.
Video and Photo Credits: Bobbie Peer