by Ann Needle
The illness never looks the same from patient to patient, but hundreds of people get together every year at Nashoba Regional High School with the common goal of trying to stop it. Once again, the American Cancer Society hosted its annual Relay for Life fundraiser at NRHS on Saturday, placing a very local look on a disease that is simply everywhere.
Cancer patients and their caregivers, families and friends took over the high school grounds to pay tribute to and raise funds for the ACS and its efforts to boost cancer-defeating research, and provide patients and loved ones with information and support. Almost 30 teams spent from 6:00 p.m. Saturday to 8:30 a.m. Sunday walking the course around the student parking lot, working out of booths they set up to sell food and goodies to benefit the ACS, and camping out in the tents set up for a bit of sleep. According to the ASC, preliminary estimates show the teams raised a total of almost $40,000. Most of the money comes in the form of pledges to the walkers.
After the opening ceremony, there were separate laps to honor current and former survivors, then caregivers. Fun wasn’t forgotten — the Hawaii’an theme brought out a Pacific-themed band, those crazy Hibiscus shirts, and the biggest collection of coconut and seashell “bras” seen by many since college.
Stow On the March
One first-time participant was Stow’s Rita French, who spent a stretch of the winter undergoing chemotherapy. Anyone who glimpsed French during treatment may have had a hard time recognizing her Saturday, as the curly haired mom in the purple “Survivor” t-shirt walked and energetically scooped ice cream for the Wekepeke 4-H Club Booth. “There IS a Wekepeke,” a brook running through the Sterling area, she explained.
Explaining that her treatment spurred her to the task of bringing her sons’ 4-H chapter into the Relay, French estimated the team had raised about $1,300 so far, “Not bad for first-timers,” she shrugged. Wekepeke 4-H leader Erin DeCoste waved to the volunteers working the booth, noting that some even came from other 4-H chapters in Worcester County.
Also getting plenty of assistance was Team Tepper, honoring the memory of Leah Tepper, who passed away in 2012 at age 19, after battling adrenal cancer for about 2-1/2 years. Leah’s mom, Tina, said she hadn’t counted the number of this year’s team members, though it appeared comparable to the approximately 40 members of last year’s team. But Leah was not the only spirit lingering around the Tepper tent.
“My mom died of cancer when I was 34,” Tina recalled. “Ken’s [Tina’s husband] father died when we were 25; he was 55.”
As of press time, Team Tepper remained a powerhouse for the Relay, running in second place in term of team dollars raised, at about $3,400. A big reason seemed to be Team Tepper’s Connor Curtis, an NRHS senior who was the second-highest individual fundraiser going into the Relay, at about $1,500.
“Leah was one of my closest friends,” said Bolton’s Curtis, who reported that this is her third year with the team. Curtis described soliciting donations via every email address she had, plus local businesses.
But another Relay force actually honed Curtis’s fundraising skills back in her middle school years. As a seventh grader at Florence
Sawyer School six years ago, Curtis took part in the first year of Science Teacher Liz Miller’s grade 7 Relay team. Miller’s team of students this year, the Sawyer Stars, were by far the top fundraising team as the Relay launched Saturday, with almost $12,500 raised.
Miller explained she was involved with the Relay for Life with her students when she was teaching in Georgia, so she easily transferred her fundraising skills when she came to FSS six years ago. This involves rallying classrooms of seventh graders to go out and get donations every year, something she begins with a telling exercise.
“I ask the students how many of them have had cancer, or at least know a family member who did, or someone who did. Every hand is always up,” she said. “There can’t be anyone around today who hasn’t been affected by cancer.”