Little hands help in big fight; Relay for Life takes steps to battle cancer.
AUBURN - While 400 walkers on 45 teams are the heroes of this weekend's ninth annual Central South County Relay for Life, anyone who can walk from the parking lot to the donation table is welcome to join the fight against cancer.
Registration for the 18-hour walk at Lemansky Park starts at 5 p.m. Sept. 7, with the celebration scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. and end at noon Saturday.
At the kickoff, David Dobson plans to sing the National Anthem, and Auburn Police Sgt. Jeffrey A. Lourie, chairman of the School Committee, is the featured speaker.
If all goes as planned, the traditional Torch of Hope will be lighted and a ribbon will be cut before cancer survivors and their caregivers walk the first lap, accompanied by bagpipers and local Boy Scouts.
Teams of walkers will take over walking duty and The Otters band will perform while survivors and caregivers enjoy a free chicken barbecue dinner funded by donations from the Auburn Chamber of Commerce and Monsignor Neary Council Knights of Columbus of St. Joseph's Church.
At about 9 p.m., the Luminaria Ceremony, the most touching moment of the event, will begin. A bagpiper will play "Amazing Grace," and the Greater Auburn Community Chorus will perform while individually decorated farolitos will be lighted all the way around the track. Walkers will take a solemn lap carrying candles.
All the luminaria and candles will be lighted in memory of or in honor of someone touched by cancer.
Throughout the two-day event, booths will offer everything from hot dogs, ice cream, and chili to jewelry designed by the late Cindy Dubrule and donated to benefit the relay by her husband Ron Dubrule.
Allan L. Narris, tri-chairman of the event, said the high-quality jewelry has been in great demand.
"There are hundreds of beautiful earrings, necklaces and brooches, many of sterling silver, Swarovski crystal or enamel. Cindy was a real artist."
A few one-of-a-kind pieces will be sold by silent auction, while the rest will be available for $5 to $10. All proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society.
Mr. Narris invited everyone to "celebrate, remember and fight back" by joining the relay or stopping by to join the fun, make a purchase or make a donation.
"I'd be very surprised to learn that anyone out there hasn't been touched by cancer of a family member or friend. Cancer affects us all," he said.
His father-in-law died of cancer, his mother-in-law has had three bouts with cancer, and his father is a prostate cancer survivor.
"Two of our brothers-in-law are fighting cancer right now. We want our new granddaughter's generation to be cancer-free. That's our goal," Mr. Narris said.
The family of Cindy J. Gallant, relay tri-chairman, has also been affected by the disease.
"I know a lot of people with cancer. My sister-in-law, Kathleen Stevens, passed away from ovarian cancer. My husband, Stephen, and I got involved in the relay through our friend (former Fire Chief) Roger Belhumeur, a cancer survivor," Mrs. Gallant said.
"I think some people are more touched by cancer than others, but cancer touches everyone."
Tri-chair Garry C. Mahlert is a bladder cancer survivor whose family is one of those "more touched by cancer."
The Mary D. Stone School custodian had chemotherapy on and off for eight years and is now in remission.
His brother died of bone cancer, and his wife Mona's mother died of cancer at age 50. Mrs. Mahlert also lost a brother to pancreatic cancer and a sister to colon cancer, and her niece and nephew died of cancer.
"Mona was tested and has a very low chance of having cancer, but cancer has impacted her family terribly," Mr. Mahlert said.
He has been involved in the annual relays for all nine years, and said next year's 10th anniversary relay will be a major event in town.
"There is no question that the relays and other fundraisers have made a difference. Funded research is developing cures and treatments that lengthen life. Look at me," he said.
The local relay has raised more than $690,000 in eight years. The goal of this year's walk is to raise $110,000 for the American Cancer Society. So far, organizers are halfway there, Mr. Narris said.
One small savings is in sand. For the first seven years, the organizers purchased sand to hold down the luminaria bags. Starting last year, they used donated canned goods to hold down the bags, and then donated the food to local food banks.
"It's one of those win-wins," Mr. Mahlert said.
Children at the Mary D. Stone School said they were happy to donate the cans and support the relay.
Brody B. Lewos, 7, said, "People are hungry and sick."
Classmate Cooper J. C'Miel, 7, said, "Cancer's a really bad thing. You can get all kinds of it, but you can fight it."
Eva M. O'Reilly, 7, said her father's friend has cancer, but "he's OK."
Olivia K. Cranney, 7, said, "My dad told me about cancer. It's a sickness. I don't want anyone to be sick."
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/TOM RETTIG
CUTLINE: From left, Brody Lewos, Olivia Cranney, Cooper C'Miel and Eva O'Reilly, all 7, of the Mary D. Stone School hold cans of food that will be donated to a local food pantry after they weigh down luminaria during the Central South County Relay for Life.