SOMERS, N.Y. – When Claire Turner’s son, Daniel, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 10, their family’s lives were changed forever, she told the crowd gathered at the seventh annual Somers Relay for Life kick-off event on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
“It kind of makes the bottom fall out of your world,” she said.
The family was vacationing in England in the summer of 2013. They thought it best to get what they assumed was a chest cold checked out prior to flying home. Instead, doctors discovered a tumor on Daniel’s lung.
It took six weeks for his condition to improve enough for him to return home to Somers, where the family found comfort in the support of members of the Somers community.
“We were supported in any way you can imagine,” she said, describing play dates and rides offered to her daughter, meal deliveries and organized blood drives.
She said that when friends and neighbors told the family about Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society’s signature, volunteer-based fundraiser, Turner said it was a no-brainer to get involved.
More than 5,000 communities in 20 countries organize an annual fundraising event, during which team members take turns walking a designated path, typically well into the night, for between six and 24 hours.
Last year, $97,000 was raised in Somers. Daniel’s team, Daniel Strong, has raised $50,000 since it began participating three years ago, Turner said.
“Relay for Life is so much more than an event; it’s truly an experience,” said Katie DiVinuto, community manager for the American Cancer Society. DiVinuto is the point person for five area events and spoke to the crowd at the kick-off event.
She said the overnight element of the event is symbolic of a cancer patient’s journey as they enter an onerous period of uncertainty and darkness and then, hopefully into daylight.
“It’s the progression of that treatment of the diagnosis and hopefully coming out on the other side and feeling more assured, more supported and more empowered,” she said.
After Daniel received what Turner described as an intense regimen of treatments that included a multitude of different drugs, chemotherapy, spinal taps and several hospital stays, for three years and four months, his leukemia is gone; however, Turner stressed, a cancer patient’s journey is not over once the cancer is defeated.
She shared a Facebook post written by an anonymous cancer survivor:
“I think the hardest part of cancer treatment is at the end when everybody assumes you’re cured, you no longer need their help,” she read. “You’re in the weakest, most devastated state, plus you no longer have the mission you had when you began this journey—to cure cancer. The cancer is toast and so are you. Now, like a soldier at the end of war, you need help getting yourself back together, only everyone has gone home since they assume the war has been won.”
The purpose of the kick-off event, according to committee volunteers Lorraine Petruzzi, Claire Andersen and Sue McCormack, is to create interest and provide local residents the opportunity to register their teams to participate.
Tim McCormack, sophomore class president and president of the Somers High School Relay for Life Club, helped set up the kick-off, which was held at the high school. He started the club this year and said members plan to encourage other students to get involved. Club member Sammi Reyes, also a sophomore, won the evening’s raffle prize.
Renée Celentano is a first-year committee member and volunteer. A cancer survivor herself, the Heritage Hills resident said she got involved because she liked that the American Cancer Society encompasses a broad range of resources for the many people affected by several different types of cancer. She encourages others who have been affected or simply want to help, to participate.
“There’s a lot of comradery through these events,” she said. “You don’t have to give back with a lot of time. You can volunteer the day of.”
Visit RelayforLife.org/SomersNY or contact DiVinuto at Katie.DiVenuto@cancer.org for more information about how funds raised are used and how to participate. If you live in Heritage Hills and want to get involved, contact Renée Celentano at 914-417-7247.