“We are very proud of how our relays do and would like to have as many teams as possible,” Isbell said. “What better time than now to celebrate those who were able to defeat this disease, remember those who were overcome by it and fight back for anyone who has ever had to hear those three devastating words, ‘you have cancer.’”
Relay for Life began in 1986 in the State of Washington and has gone on to become a popular national fund-raising venue for the cancer society, which considers it “a unique celebration of life.” It is usually an overnight event where teams of eight to 15 people take turns walking or running around tracks. Teams collect money prior to the relay in various ways, including car washes and personal solicitations.
Each location has its own theme and there is a festive atmosphere as team members camp out and enjoy food, music and entertainment. The first lap is reserved for cancer survivors and when it gets dark, there is a luminaria candle ceremony for those who have been affected by cancer.
Money raised goes for research, education, advocacy and services. In Queens, services can include accessing a wig, temporary recovery space and counseling and family support.
By 2015, the ACS hopes to prevent almost 5 million additional deaths from cancer, avoid 6 million new cancer diagnoses and continue to improve the quality of life for disease sufferers.
The borough’s second oldest and one of its most successful relays is held in Middle Village at Juniper Valley Park. It began nine years ago and last year volunteers raised $152,000. Maria Vega of Glendale has participated in the last five events and has her own team filled with family members.
“The Middle Village relay is so successful because it’s a great community taking in Maspeth, Glendale and Ridgewood,” Vega said. “People come together for a great cause.”
Last year 500 participants spent the night at Juniper Valley Park and a total of 1,000 attended the event. Vega is hoping for even higher numbers this year.
Middle Village’s theme is a pajama party and participants are expected to dress up accordingly.
A cancer survivor due to early detection, Vega has been involved with the relay for six years. “My husband and I have no children and I don’t work, so I have time to volunteer,” she said.
James Thompson is a relative newcomer to Queens, having moved to Astoria three months ago. He is now the co-chairman of the Astoria Relay for Life. “What better way to learn about the community and meet people,” Thompson said. “I love it here.”
Thompson, a real estate attorney who hails from Staten Island, ran the Baruch College Relay for Life several years ago and found it a great experience. He is hoping for the same in Astoria.
Mary Modica of Bayside is a volunteer at the cancer society office in Kew Gardens who participated in Fort Totten relays a few times. This year, the former Cunningham Park event is merging with the one at Fort Totten.
“It’s a similar area and we wanted to grow the event,” said Modica, a retired school principal. “The location at Fort Totten is perfect.”
A born organizer, Modica has already gotten the FDNY, which has a facility at the fort, to form a team and is also involving area students.
“I am handing out fliers and seeking volunteers,” she said. “I want to make it one of the most successful ones in Queens.”
That distinction goes to the Howard Beach event which raised $165,000 last year. Phyllis Inserillo is its co-chairwoman.
Her best friend is a cancer survivor and she likes the message of the cancer society. “We have a small but mighty committee of 10 with more than 700 in the relay,” Inserillo said.
The mother of two young children, she is also a professional party planner. Her motto for the relay is “Don’t stop trying.”
She advises others interested in starting similar events elsewhere: “Don’t give up about involving people. I got the Department of Education involved this year. I keep calling and don’t take no for an answer.”
The Howard Beach theme this year is luau and Inserillo has already gotten a company to donate hula dancers as part of the program’s entertainment. “We thought it was a fun and summery theme,” she said.
To register, participate or for further information, log onto relayforlife.org or call the Queens office at (718) 261-1092.
Relay for Life locations in Queens: