Photos by Doug Freese
On Saturday, May 16, Saugerties held its annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life at the Kiwanis Ice Arena. The event is held each year to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. The American Cancer Society’s main goal is to “create a world with more birthdays.” With the support shown from the Saugerties community, the ACS is one step closer to achieving that goal.
The Saugerties event consisted of 29 teams and about 183 participants who raised approximately $25,631.73, a substantial donation to the cause. Event coordinator Chris Hamilton is proud of the achievement, but believes the community can do even better. “I want this event to blow every other event out of the water. The three Event Leadership Teams and I know of an event in Bakersfield, California that raises over a million dollars, and that’s because of the community. People today came out in droves, but if we can get more people to come out, that’s what we want to do.”
The 12-hour Saugerties event began at 11 a.m. with opening remarks from Hamilton and the three grand marshals, each a survivor of cancer nominated for their courage and strength. They represent all those who have beaten the terrible disease. This year the honorees were Jared Andrews, David Chandler and Holly VanDerbeck.
Jared was two years old last year when he was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a type of liver cancer that affects children. Happily, he fought through. His mother, Debra Andrews, glowed about her son. “He’s a great kid, so strong. He’s really amazing, and I’m so proud that he beat it.” The community has shown great support for Jared, coming out for fundraisers, contributing online and making him a grand marshal.
Chandler recalled his story on stage. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in July of 2013. When he had his surgery in October, he called his father to share the results, only to find that his mother had passed that morning. A week later, on the day of his mother’s memorial service, he received a call from his doctor saying that his cancer was not stage one, but stage four. Then two months later, his father died. He had lot of support from family and friends, however, and he made it through. Chandler was told he had a 70 percent chance of recurrence, but two and a half years later his cancer has remained undetectable. “It’s not about the length of life,” Chandler states, “but the depth of life. And I’ve had a wonderful life.”
The third grand marshal, Holly VanDerbeck, was diagnosed with melanoma in 2012, but beat it with her positive attitude and support from friends and family. She was genuinely thankful to be there, talking to the many people who have similar stories. “As time goes by, you forget how hard it was,” she said. Her son, Noah VanDerbeck, a senior at SHS, attended the event, and spoke about why he thinks Relay for Life is a great event. “It’s a good way to support my mom. I know several other people here who’ve had cancer, some who’ve been beaten by it and others who have beaten it, so it’s great to be here.”
Many students from the Saugerties High School Key Club were in attendance. Sophomore Sarah Fullman talked about why she was there for more than just the required volunteer hours. “My mom is a survivor, and we’re part of a team. I think it raises awareness for the people who have had cancer and who either passed from it or fought it and won. I think it impacts everyone’s lives in some way.”
This is just the type of message Missy Greco, Key Club faculty advisor, wants her students to learn. “It’s so inspiring to see all these people come out, all the people who have been struck by this disease, the people we’ve lost and the people we care for now. It’s important for the kids to realize that this is part of the community, that this is a big event in our community. And for them to help out is really great.”
Relay for Life is celebrating its very own milestone birthday this year, turning 30. Tacoma, Washington is where Dr. Gordy Klatt first walked and ran around a track for 24 hours in 1985. It was the first Relay for Life. He raised $27,000. The very next year, 340 supporters joined him and every year since the event has grown. Since 1985, Relay for Life has helped raise $5 billion.
For more information on how to get involved with the American Cancer Society, or Relay for Life, go to relayforlife.org.