MADISON, NJ - Almost everyone has been affected by cancer in some way. Whether one is a patient, a survivor, or a loved one of a victim, the terrible disease has touched countless numbers of people’s lives throughout the world. If afflicts the young and the old; the rich and the poor; and individuals of every race, orientation, and creed. Even worse, there is no known cure for the illness. Cancer is truly a sickness that never sleeps – fortunately, neither do the participants of Relay for Life.

Relay for Life of Madison/Florham Park was held at Madison High School, lasting from 6 p.m. on June 23 through 6 a.m. on June 24. Sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the event centered on an all-night relay race in which members from teams took turns walking around the school track, starting with the survivor’s lap to celebrate those who have overcome cancer. In addition to the actual relay, the event also included a luminaria ceremony, giving participants the chance to light candles in honor of those who have died or are suffering from cancer. It even featured entertainment for all ages, with the Family Fun Fair before the start of the relay and lighthearted themed laps throughout the race.

“It’s a way to bring the community together and to raise money and to honor the people that have either passed away from cancer or have survived cancer,” said Karen Winick, director of special events for the American Cancer Society. According to Winick, all money raised by teams will go to the Society, which uses the funds to benefit cancer
patients in the Madison/Florham Park area in addition to cancer research. As of press time, $62,242 had been raised, though that amount could have been increased by team fundraisers held during the event.

The Relay holds a very special place in the heart of Barbara Bartolomeo. Not only has she been chairwoman of the event for the past three years, she has also participated in it since it was first held in Madison/Florham Park six years ago.

“It’s one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences that I’ve ever had in my life,” said Bartolomeo. “I was hooked after the first event.”

She first got involved following the death of her niece, who passed away from melanoma in 2006 when she was just 16 years old. In fact, Bartolomeo captained the team Kelly’s Angels in her memory. Though her loss was tragic, Bartolomeo takes solace in the fact that the event is raising cancer awareness as well as money to put an end to the disease.

“Everyone knows someone,” she said. “It’s a great way to raise additional funds to hopefully one day find that cure.”

According to Bartolomeo, about 35 teams took part in this year’s Relay, many of which contained cancer survivors. One such team member was Lisa Fletcher, who is a five-year survivor of lung cancer. Fletcher, of the team A Breath for Lisa, said she has participated in the Relay for the past five years and believes it is an important event.

“It brings so much awareness and the money raised helps so many people,” she said. “I think everybody knows someone that’s been affected by cancer, so it’s a way to celebrate with each other instead of always being so sad about a disease that really hurts everybody. I just find it very inspirational.”

The Relay lasts for 12 straight hours, with teams wishing to participate for the full length of the race camping out in tents near the track. While this might difficult, Christopher Sardo of Maria’s Team of Hope said it is not as bad as it seems.

“It’s very tiring, but it’s also pretty exciting because there’s different things happening each hour and they keep you involved,” he said. “[It’s a] fun event. I really enjoy it.”

For Sardo, it is also an event that everyone should participate in.

“No matter how old or young you are … get involved, because there’s always something to do,” said Sardo.

Of all the cancer survivors at the relay, Dr. Julie DiGioia’s situation is unique. DiGioia is both a breast cancer survivor and a breast cancer surgeon at Overlook Hospital and Jersey City Medical Center. Having experienced the disease as both a doctor and a patient, she especially sees why the event is so necessary.

“There is less money available to take care of patients and more people who are diagnosed with cancer,” said DiGioia.

Her double-sided experience with cancer also allows her to give sound advice to people who are suffering from the disease today.

“Learn and profit from the educational services of the American Cancer Society,” said DiGioia. “Be positive and participate in life as much as possible, and be grateful for all the advances that have been made in preventing cancer and improving cancer.”

There is currently no cure for cancer, but that is not going to stop the participants in Relay for Life from trying to find one. They will keep celebrating their lives lived today while hoping for a tomorrow in which that horrible disease does not exist. All the while they will walk to help the suffering – even if it takes all night to do so.