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Relay for Life draws young and old

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last in a series of monthly columns profiling people and events involved in this year’s American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Hampshire County, held June 14 and 15 at Look Memorial Park in Florence.

Everybody Was Cancer Fighting.

So goes the name of a long-standing team in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Hampshire County. Comprised of college sophomores, the group has been participating in the Relay since its members were in the seventh grade at JFK Middle School in Northampton. One member of the group came up with the name as a play on the song “Kung-Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas, and it stuck.

Inspired by a cancer survivor who was their seventh grade teacher and student council advisor when the team first formed, the members first saw the Relay as a fun way to complete community service, said team co-captain Michel John Venne of Florence.

Venne credits his co-captain, Monica Hunter-Hart, also of Florence, for inspiring the team and getting them together each year to return to the Relay.

After a few years, the group realized that almost everyone on the team had a friend or family member that had cancer. This realization helped to solidify the group and gave them additional motivation to stay involved.

At this year’s Relay Friday and Saturday, Venne’s team was out in force, helping the American Cancer Society exceed the goal of $260,000. A total of 94 teams and roughly 1,500 participants raised $281,000.

“The Relay For Life of Hampshire County was once again an incredible celebration of life,” said Wendy Payson, one of three co-chairs of the committee that organizes the annual event. “While we won’t find the cure for cancer tomorrow, we are closer than we’ve ever been, and we’re going to find it. Together, we are turning hope into a cure.”

Like many at Relay, Venne and his teammates were selling items to raise additional funds for the American Cancer Society; they had dinner items, including sesame noodles, for sale.

Their motivation, and that of others, is experienced as support by those living with cancer, providing encouragement to fight on.

That’s what Geraldine Raucher of Easthampton would tell you.

Raucher was diagnosed with Paget disease of the breast on her 40th birthday. The rare disease is found in about one to four percent of all breast cancer cases.

Undergoing both a mastectomy and a subsequent reconstructive surgery over three years after her initial diagnosis, Raucher’s long road to recovery could not have taken place without the help of others. She describes the journey as going “to hell and back.”

Of her family and friends, she said: “I can’t imagine having to go through this without them.” Thye took care of the day-to-day needs while her job was to heal, she said.

After her own battle with breast cancer, Raucher helped her mother fight the disease, serving as her caregiver.

“Being on both sides was an experience. It builds a bond,” said Raucher of her experiences with her mother, both in receiving care and administering it.

From succeeding in her own fight against cancer to losing her mother in hers, cancer has played a large part in Raucher’s life.

While Raucher and Venne may not know each other personally, the bond of fighting cancer ties them together through Relay For Life of Hampshire County.

Now a 10-year survivor, Raucher first got involved in Relay For Life in Hampshire County through the Survivors’ Lap, the inaugural lap which begins the Relay every year. “It’s an incredible feeling having people cheer you on,” said Raucher, who’s been involved in the Relay ever since.

Members of “Everybody was Cancer Fighting” have likely been amongst those leading the cheers in past Relays, having experienced years where the team reached 30-35 people. It is this uplifting spirit that makes the Relay For Life what it is.

“The greatest thing about Relay is the community,” said Venne.

Donations can be made at www.relayforlife.org/hampshirecountyma or they can be sent to ACS at 59 Bobala Road, Holyoke, MA 01040 (check should reference the Hampshire County Relay).

David Card is a student at Westfield State University.

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