Memories, dedication bring organizers to Relay For Life

Last modified: Friday, April 25, 2014


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

There are too many reasons to list why Tom McCusker, 45, of Florence, participates in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Hampshire County.

McCusker has been part of Relay since the third annual Hampshire County event more than 10 years ago, and has been a tri-chair once before. He has been an active member of the planning team since 2001.

His inspiration comes mainly from knowing a family member with cancer. His sister-in-law Donna was diagnosed in late March 2001 with stage 4 colorectal cancer.

Donna passed away shortly after her battle with cancer began. She was aware of Relay For Life and asked the family to make two promises: one, to take her to the event; and two, to start a family team after her passing. That team is now called Donna’s Darlins’.

McCusker also walks for his father, who lost his battle with cancer as well, but he says that Donna was the reason he started to join Relay.

Along with McCusker, Wendy Payson, 45, of Southampton, and Kurt LaPlante, 20, of Chicopee are serving as tri-chairs this year.

The tri-chairs spend hundreds of hours together in a Relay season. They gather sponsors, oversee fundraising efforts, chair monthly meetings of the organizing committee, help to register teams and volunteers, and plan all the details of the 24-hour event.

Payson has been part of Relay since the event came to Hampshire County in 1998. This is her third year as a tri-chair, and she has been on the planning committee for 10 years.

This year, Hampshire County is making the theme of the Relay “over-the-top circus,” with activities and events planned around this theme. The survivors’ tent at the event will be a Big Top-style tent, and teams are encouraged to host on-site carnival games as fundraisers.

“We feel it’s something people will really latch onto and have fun with,” Payson said.

McCusker said he hopes that the Relay will motivate others to become involved. The statistics say that one in three people will be diagnosed with a form of cancer this year, he points out, and that is part of what pushes him to do more.

That, and his memories of Donna.

“Donna was losing her battle by the time we got to September, but fighting every day to beat this,” he recalled. “Her favorite holiday was Halloween, and it was because of the children in costumes. She fought until after the last trick-or-treater came by the house, and she passed away just before the end on Halloween night.”

Kurt LaPlante shares the desire to make a difference. “We want to get people pumped to save more lives,” he said. “I want to see an end to this dreadful disease.”

Payson couldn’t agree more. “When I walk around the track in the middle of the night,” she said, “it’s my chance to reflect on the lives lost to cancer, the many people struggling with the disease in this moment, and the incredible number of people around the track who have come out to make a difference.

“Together, we will find a cure. And I will be Relaying until that cure is found.”

To volunteer for the Hampshire County Relay For Life on June 13, contact Stacey Chickering at

For more information, visit

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


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