SOMERS, N.Y. - Each year the American Cancer Society (ACS) sponsors Relay for Life events in communities all over the country as a way to bring attention to an all-too-pervasive disease: cancer.

Relay participants form “teams” which camp out and take turns walking a track. There’s also games and food to keep people entertained for what is typically a 12-hour all-night event.

On the evening of Thursday, Jan. 28, the Somers community met up at Somerfields Restaurant for this year’s Relay for Life kickoff party. The aim of the event was to raise awareness about what Relay for Life is and why people take part in it each year. Guests ate a buffet dinner and sat at tables embellished with purple balloons while listening to speeches from several Relay organizers.

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ACS Community Manager Janis Castaldi told the story of her sister, who passed away about a year after being diagnosed with cancer at age 40.

“That’s why I relay,” Castaldi said.

Speaking about the larger mission of the ACS, Castaldi also stressed that the goal of events like Relay for Life is not only about showing support for cancer survivors, but also creating awareness around the issue so that one day there might be a cure.

“I’m in it to end it,” she told the audience. Castaldi gave some basic information about what Relay for Life is and why it’s become a yearly tradition. “We walk to show cancer is a never-ending battle,” she said.

Next, Monica Garrigan, a senior manager of Relay For Life, spoke to the room.

“Relay For Life brings the mission of the American Cancer Society to the community,” she said. “It brings that life-saving information.” She shared that since she first started working with the ACS, she’s witnessed the cancer mortality rate decline by 20 percent. “That’s because of the work we do in our communities,” Garrigan said. She spoke of new drugs and treatments, such as the vaccine for HPV, as one reason why this rate has gone down in recent years.

Garrigan then stressed the importance of getting screened for colorectal cancer and played a short video on the topic. One goal of the ACS is to increase the number of people who get screened for colorectal cancer to 80 percent of the eligible population by 2018. In New York State, this rate is currently at 65 percent.

“Taking these actions are life-saving and we want to spread the word,” Garrigan said.

Garrigan was followed by Deborah Kilmer, a fourth-grade teacher at Somers Intermediate School. Kilmer shared her story of her battle with cancer and emphasized that all Relay participants are motivated for the same reason.

“We in this room have a common enemy of cancer,” Kilmer said. “We’re all here to change the statistics.”

Castaldi closed out the night by inviting people to participate in lobbying state government for better regulation of products containing potential carcinogens. The group effort is an initiative of the Cancer Action Network, a cancer advocacy organization which seeks to influence public policy.

“The only way we can make change is with all of you,” Castaldi said. Emphasizing the need for “grassroots involvement,” Castaldi told the Relayers that ACS CAN needs “an army of people to go up to Albany.” 

This will be the sixth year that Somers is hosting its own Relay for Life event. The fundraiser will happen in May, although the exact date hasn’t been confirmed yet.

As of now, Somers has 15 teams consisting of 44 participants who have raised over $6,000. Guests at the kickoff party on Thursday were encouraged to form their own teams and get their friends and family members involved. It is anticipated that hundreds of people will attend.

Between now and the May event, there will be several smaller fundraisers and initiatives organized by individual Relay teams, such as a dinner dance on April 2 at the Mahopac Fire House presented by “The Warriors,” a team of 10 which includes Clare Anderson and her daughter Caitlin. Tickets for the dinner dance are sold in advance and are $50 per person for dinner and dancing with a local DJ.

After the presentations, Sue McCormack, who works with Relay as a volunteer recruiter, stood with her children Tim and Emily, high school students involved with bringing more young people to Relay for Life. McCormack expressed her surprise at the large turnout for the kickoff party. “There’s more people that we’ve ever had before,” she said.