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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rally Kicks Off 2011 Relay for Life Planning

Rally Kicks Off 2011 Relay for Life Planning:
Attendees share inspiration and hopes
(Posted on 1/21)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Such a united, positive vibe reigned over the gathering that one imagined, if harnessed, it could cure any ill. Sadly, everyone in the room would need to remain vigilant to eradicate one of man’s most pervasive diseases – cancer.

To kick off the fight in 2011, coordinators of the Fairfield hub of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life cancer research fundraiser hosted a rally Thursday night at the Fairfield Museum and History Center. Over 60 people attended – including team captains, local cancer survivors and family members -- to celebrate the previous year’s achievements and to hear about plans for this year’s program.

According to Michelle Cole, Planning Committee Co-Chair, last year’s event was the fifth highest fundraising event for cancer in all of New England out of 235 distinct events. “We were number one out of all the events for funds raised online,” added Cole. In all, almost $350,000 was raised.

Cole oversees a planning committee of 40 who, themselves, are on 12 subcommittees. The groups coordinate logistics, plan the June 4-5 Relay for Life event (to be held at Fairfield Ludlowe High School), and organize the teams and pre-race Survivor reception.

Two honorary chairs, Kevin Cotellese and Ryan Brennan, will serve as spokespeople for the 2011 event, bringing a face to the effort. “Both are very upbeat and inspire not only close family and friends, but the general community as well,” said event co-chair Cheryl Grabiec.

Cotellese is the Fairfield Ludlowe High School Director of Choral Activities who, in Nov. 2009, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As he began chemotherapy in Jan. 2010, his students formed the Relay team Close Harmony in his honor. Cotellese completed treatments as of October 2010 and initial tests indicate he is cancer-free.

Brennan is a 17-year-old student at Fairfield Preparatory who is currently battling Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumors, following a Sept. 2009 diagnosis. His friends and family rallied with Ryan to form the Relay team Just Beat It.

The captain of the Just Beat It team, Sean Keane, 17, said, “It has been amazing being involved with the community, raising funds and helping my friend Ryan.”

Brennan has been propelled by the outpouring of support. “When I was first diagnosed, it was very scary, but within days a powerful team of people came together to form Just Beat It. A dedicated Facebook page was also created which has gained over 2,000 members in a relatively short time. I can’t describe how meaningful this has been and the strength it gave me to go forward day by day.”

As an additional fundraising effort, Keane’s group printed, and has been selling, Just Beat It t-shirts and bracelets. “They’ve been really popular – six hundred shirts sold within a month and have been distributed across the country. We’ve raised several thousand dollars for the cause,” said Brennan.

Prominently displayed at the rally was a Fight Back banner used to encourage people to make a pledge for a way they can fight back against cancer. Pledges may include a vow to stop smoking, wear sunscreen, eat more vegetables or go for cancer screening tests. Those that pledge autograph the banner to inspire others.

Past chair Anne Farkas was delighted to again be part of this exuberant pack. “Relay for Life has been about inspiration, the community and, really, our youth. I was invited to get involved by my daughter. We have all sorts of cancer in our family and I wanted to do something uplifting to make a difference. I got to see the positive vibe and spirit of the event – that healing that takes place. The Fairfield community really takes up the fight. The year I chaired, we had a grandfather throw away his cane to walk the opening lap.”

American Cancer Society Staff Partner Shannon Murnane gave Fairfield much credit for its efforts as well. “Fairfield is such a great contributor for us as one of the largest events in the state, now in its 14th year of participation. The town is very energetic – people donate their time at the drop of a hat. And they have such a great network of friends and family to provide support.”

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