NHS students find Relay for Life a challenging, rewarding experience

Last modified: Tuesday, April 01, 2014


This is the third in a series of guest articles that explains aspects of Relay for Life of Hampshire County. This year’s American Cancer Society fundraiser will be June 13-14 at Look Memorial Park in Florence.

It was 9 a.m. on a Saturday in late January and most high school freshmen were sleeping. Davis Caron-Vera and Matti Tacy of Northampton were at the Relay For Life of Hampshire County’s kick-off breakfast to learn new ideas on raising money to fight cancer.

For these two 15-year-olds, the choice to put Relay before sleep is obvious because cancer has touched each of their lives. Davis’ mom, Celia Vera, was diagnosed with a rare cancer that affected her skull in 2000 when Davis was still a baby. Matti’s grandmother, Honey Tacy, passed away from cancer when she was very young.

Davis and Matti have participated on teams with their family members before, but now they are picking up the cause on their own. The two currently co-captain their Northampton High School Relay team, One Step at a Time.

The two said their fellow teammates are also dealing with a parent, family member or friend who has or had cancer, and so they all understand the importance of Relay — that it’s not just a fun night in the park.

Having three survivors on their team this year — Davis’ mom and two others, one of whom is a classmate — helps drive the impact home. Matti described the experience as an “eye-opener.” She finds it invaluable to see that the money raised during Relay goes to “real people getting real treatment.”

Matti and Davis said their dedication to Relay comes in part from how inspiring it can be. Every year, there is a cancer survivors’ lap as well as a lap for the caregivers of those with cancer, and watching them round the track is moving for the teens.

The two also feel a strong attachment to the luminaria ceremony, during which hundreds of memorials are each lit with a candle flame to remember those who have died from cancer and to honor those who are fighting the disease.

“Even though you’re here, and it’s such a horrible thing … you still see the bright side,” Matti says as she describes the typical experience of a luminaria ceremony. “It’s still uplifting.”

Davis and Matti said that they think the significance of Relay can be lost on people who are not personally affected by cancer, so they see the event as an opportunity to educate others.

Every year, they find new reasons to come back and spread to others the hope that participating has brought them.

They tell stories like these:

At the Hampshire County Relay, there has historically been a bead stand where Relay participants can collect a bead on a string for every lap they have walked. Walkers look forward to collecting them as they round the bend. Matti recalls that one year, there was no bead stand, so a woman’s husband went to the store and bought over 1,000 beads to continue the annual tradition.

One year, a cancer survivor told Davis that talking with her helped her realize she wasn’t alone.

Another year, Matti’s friend learned that his mom had passed from cancer during the Relay For Life. To show her support for him, Matti walked with him around the track for the remainder of the night.

Being surrounded by friends for 24 hours also has its benefits. Davis and Matti said that Relay helps them get to know their peers on a deeper level; they bond, tell stories and offer each other support. “I look forward to Relay every year,” Matti said.

Something unusual always happens, such as in the first year, when thunder and lightning briefly interrupted the Relay. Luckily for the girls, a chaperone is required for youth teams, so the entire team was able to cram into a chaperone’s van.

Fundraising for Relay begins long before the event. Davis and Matti said it’s tricky raising funds from a team that consists mainly of high school students, so they try to be creative.

Two years ago, for instance, they hosted a school dance as a fundraiser that was wildly successful.

“Relay makes you realize how lucky you are and how thankful you are,” Davis said.

To donate to Davis and Matti’s team, email daviscaron@yahoo.com or m.tacy13@yahoo.com.

To volunteer for Relay or for more information, email hamprelay@gmail.com or visit www.relayforlife.org/hampshirecountyma.

Lisa Marie Leary is a junior at Westfield State University. She assists with publicity for Relay For Life of Hampshire County.


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