Driving up to Fair Lawn High School's Sasso Field was oddly quiet for an event that promised to be a little loud and certainly lively on May 6.
It was quiet because the first ever Relay for Life in the borough had been moved indoors to the George Frey Community Center due to threatening weather. While the event was moved just feet from its original place on the field, it was a decision appreciated later when the rain, thunder and lightning hit around 8 p.m., the most active part of the event.
Quickly it went from quiet to loud into the excited buzz of the gym of the community center where Fair Lawn residents, volunteers, teachers, students and other dignitaries gathered to raise awareness and funds for cancer.
The middle of the gym was filled with families who had staked their places, ready to stay the night at the event that would remind them of personal triumphs against cancer and the heartache of those lost.
But then there was the real reason they had all gathered: the promise of a better future for cancer victims and the effort to eradicate, or at least tip the odds toward survival for anyone diagnosed.
Old friends greeted each other taking in the familiar site of the Relay signature, the white lunch bags, each decorated with the name of an afflicted person, that would light the darkened gym as those who passed from cancer were memorialized.
Although unbearably sad, whether a loved one had died 15 years ago or just 12 months ago, it was okay to sniffle through it because the person next to you understood your pain.
Throughout the night, the continuous movement, including both a stroll around the camped families in the middle of the gym, or a group walk upstairs on the track around the perimeter, was aided by the regular music driven by a DJ or a live band.
Families remembered their loved ones, several with t-shirts commemorating the individual that passed or the one currently in the fight. Local survivors were on-hand telling their stories, tales of warning for those who have been delaying a test or who have had a nagging issue they cannot explain away with a common diagnosis.
Tim Yuskaitis talked about the feeling of being diagnosed, the way it hits you and what happens when you have to tell your family. Then, there's the dizzying process of tests and treatment. No one person's experience was quite like another's, but it garnered the attention of the audience, most of whom found the stories all-too-familiar.
The familiarity of common struggle made the event a place where people felt free to share the struggles, their pain. Fred Schuldt, seated on some mats at midnight, laughed as his high school daughter jumped around.
"All this has made me a motivational speaker," he said of his dealings with more than one type cancer.
A financial planner by trade, Schuldt found out on Sept. 11, 2001 that he would be in for a fight and didn't know if he was coming or going as he watched the towers come down in the midst of his own life struggle.
Now, at the age of 48, he has survived a few bouts of cancer and is writing a book, "Keep Showing Up."
"I think it's becoming about all the strong women in my life who've helped me along the way," he said, "especially my wife."
There were many contributors throughout the night, people there for support or to help the fundraising efforts.
Courtney Mottola, a Fair Lawn High School alumni, a member of the Event Leadership Team as the Survivor/Caregiver Lead and just days from college graduation, led the young people's efforts, especially moving because the district just learned of another young student who has contracted cancer.
Mayor John Cosgrove, councilwoman Lisa Swain and deputy mayor Amy Lefkowitz paused for a photo, Kat Baranova sang the National Anthem and volunteers spent the evening helping participants with registration, and the necessaries like finding food and bathrooms. And police, ambulance and other emergency personnel dotted the perimeter as a comforting security blanket.
The event lasted all night until 6 a.m. and was considered a memorable success. Relays are such large undertakings, communities usually make them a habit every other year. Glen Rock will hold their Relay for Life on June 10.