The American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life sets up at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School next week for its sixth annual event. Teams of walkers and runners will gather at 3 p.m. on Friday, June 5 and most will camp overnight so they can continue taking turns on the track until the event ends at noon on Saturday.
Janine Milakeve, who has chaired the event for the last five years, says she got involved by coincidence. “The staff of the Edgartown post office asked me if I would be on a team for Corrine [Hatt], one of their coworkers, because they saw me walking all the time,” she said. The staff wasn’t sure what the event was all about but Ms. Milakeve volunteered to go and take notes. The meeting was with a representative of the American Cancer Society who was here to explain Relay For Life and help set up the first one on the Vineyard.
Three other women attended and, as they introduced themselves, Ms. Milakeve realized she was the only one who was not a cancer survivor. “I felt so out of place because I was the only non-survivor. I told them I was a walker, just taking notes for someone who could not make it,” she said. “By the end of the meeting I was in charge of making some calls for port-a-potties and tents.” But she did get more involved on the committee and became a team captain.
“Two weeks before the event my grandmother was diagnosed with bladder cancer and died within a week,” Ms. Milakeve said. “So, at event time it had a whole new meaning for me.”
Relay For Life is a celebration of cancer survivors, a remembrance of those who have died, and a way to fight back by turning fund-raising into a fun event.
Groups of coworkers, family and friends of all ages make up the teams; the Martha’s Vineyard Cancer Support Group, the Federated Church youth group, Curves fitness center, the Edgartown Firemen’s Association, the charter school and a book club are a few of the groups. Many are organized in memory of someone lost to cancer.
Brenda Dimovich, with the Tisbury Tigresses team from the Tisbury School, says, “We walk for kids so they don’t have to deal with cancer.” Their theme is Paws and Reflect on a World without Cancer.
Teams walk or run on the track throughout the event with the goal of having a member of each team on the track at all times. One lap is just for cancer survivors. John Cummings leads the Prostate Cancer Support Group team with about 20 members, mostly in their seventies and eighties. “We go last,” he volunteered. This is one group that does not camp out overnight.
Several laps are a form of entertainment and a way to keep traffic on the track. One is a poker lap where participants go around five times, picking up a card each time; the person with the best hand will win a prize. Another is a backwards lap. “I’m not sure how that one is going to go,” Ms. Milakeve said.
There’s also a prize on Saturday morning called the Wacky Morning Look for the best bed head and another for theme costumes. “I expect the Tisbury Tigresses to show up with ears, tails and big paws,” she said.
Relay For Life is an international event with relays in 20 countries and more than 3.5 million participants. Each team member solicits sponsors with a goal of at least $100 in total pledges. Ms. Milakeve said that although there are only 26 teams this year, down from last year’s 32, the total number of participants is about the same. The average team size is 15 people but the Edgartown National Bank’s Banker Babes and the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank team may have 25 or 30 members. At least half the teams are returning for their second year.
Ms. Milakeve’s goal is to match the $108,406 raised last year, predominantly from pledges and registration fees. Some additional revenue will come from relay participant Tammy King’s garage sale last weekend at her Vineyard Haven home.
Shelly O’Neil is a four-year survivor of breast cancer and is doing the relay for the second year. Her team, the Booby Traps, is made up of coworkers from Edgartown’s Town Hall, her family and friends and will number about 24 people. “The event is like a milestone for me,” she said. “It’s another year of being healthy so it’s more of a celebration.” She likes to check out the different themes of the tents; hers will be based on the American Cancer Society’s More Birthdays theme — a world with more birthdays is a world with less cancer.
Ms. O’Neil points out that the relay is not just for people on teams and that the public is encouraged to stop by and join in. “Some teams need extra walkers but anyone is invited to just walk even for an hour. It’s fun to be there with all that amazing energy.”