PARSIPPANY, NJ - On May 18, over 1,500 people came in and out of the sports fields of Parsippany Hills High School to attend a special annual event; the 2019 Relay For Life of Morris County. For everyone present, it was a time to reflect, pay homage and support all those who have been affected by a life-changing disease.

"Relay For Life is a great experience and it's heartwarming to see all the young high school students participating in this evening's event," said Councilwoman Loretta Gragnani, whose husband Adam was diagnosed with non-hodgkin lymphoma last year, after a severe case of bronchitis. "We are blessed with doctors and treatments. And he is in remission now."

Relay For Life is a community walk that has raised funds for the American Cancer Society since 1985. Since its creation, Relay For Life has grown into a worldwide movement with relay walking teams raising nearly five billion dollars thus making it the largest fundraising event to end cancer. Today, Relay For Life takes place in over 20 countries with an average four million people participating in the mission of spreading the awareness for support to cancer research.

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According to the American Cancer Society, in 2019, there will be an estimated 1,762,450 new cancer cases diagnosed, and 606,880 cancer deaths in the United States. With numbers like that, the Relay committee (which included several local high school students) was determined to make this event count for every person.

"This committee has shocked me from the start," said Cori Mastropolo, a Rockaway Township resident and the community development manager for Relay For Life. "For many of them, this is their first time participating and they exceeded all my expectations and more. Bringing it to the high school has made people more aware of the work of the American Cancer Society and the difference that we make."

This was also Mastropolo's first year as a staff member for the Relay event, and has a loved one, her father Anthony, who is a cancer survivor.

This year's Relay For Life was particularly dedicated to three young Parsippany kids who have made waves in their community through their own battles with cancer. They included 12-year-old Sean Ries (who was diagnosed at the age of five with a dysembryoplastic neuroepithial tumor), 12-year-old Hannah Cerullo (who was diagnosed with cancer, which spread from her kidneys to her liver and lungs last year) and four-year-old Emma Wyman (who was diagnosed with a tumor when only a few months old).

"Relay For Life is a great event," said Parsippany resident Dee dePierro. "Townspeople come out to support one another, giving the uplift they need. We're always praying for a cure and one day we will see it hopefully in our lifetime."

DePierro is a breast cancer survivor herself of 21 years, with her husband Councilman Michael dePierro being her constant caregiver.

During the whole day, attendees were treated to many activities, including jazzercise, frozen t-shirt contest, scavenger hunt, lunches and dinners, food trucks and even a flag football tournament. There were also many vendors for local business and event sponsors, including Western Pest Services, Applebee's, ACME Foundation, Riker Danzig, Lakeland Hills Family YMCA of Mountain Lakes, and 24 Hour Fitness.

There was also the presence of the Parsippany Volunteer Ambulance, the Parsippany Rescue & Recovery, and the Parsippany Rockaway Neck Ambulance Squad, who came to volunteer their time for the Relay.

"For a cure for cancer, it is in their hearts," said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, Jr., who himself battled thyroid cancer twice, and was a caregiver to his father, Senator Anthony Bucco, when the latter suffered from throat cancer. "You should all be very proud of yourselves. We're here to celebrate the survivors, to thank the caregivers and to remember those that didn't make it. And it's a tough day for all three of those groups."

All three of these groups also took part in laps around the high school’s track. All day long, cancer survivors and caregivers walked, skipped, raced and even danced on the tracks in honor of their loved ones lost to the terrible disease. But the main climax of the Relay was the luminaria ceremony. Across the field, candles in bags were lit up, each one representing a survivor or victim of cancer. There was even lit bags on the bleachers that were arranged to form the word “CURE,” symbolizing everyone’s dream of a world that is cancer-free. In the final laps of the Relay, about 200 to 300 people silently marched around the field, while bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.”

"While we enjoy each other's company, let's not forget why we are here," said Lake Hiawatha resident Karen DeChristopher, who acted as the lead for the survivor and caregiver ceremonies. "Our survivors and those no longer with us are the reason we need to finish the fight against cancer. Each and every one of you is here because you feel that you want to make a difference. We are here to celebrate. In a moment, we will honor our cancer survivors. Anyone you see on the field wearing a purple survivor shirt. We will also celebrate our past and present caregivers who have been right by the side of a friend or loved one through the battle."

DeChristopher herself is a three-time cancer survivor and has been volunteering in the Relay event for 30 years.

By the end of the event, the 2019 Relay For Life was able to collect $72,549, very close to the set goal of $90,000.

For more information on the Relay For Life of Morris County, visit their website at http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY19NER?pg=entry&fr_id=91147.

And to learn more about the American Cancer Society and how to volunteer in your community, visit their website at https://www.cancer.org/.