HUNDREDS of luminaria — representing cancer survivors and the memory of those who have died — line the track at Brunswick High School May 18, 2012, during the local Relay For Life event. This year’s event begins Friday.

HUNDREDS of luminaria — representing cancer survivors and the memory of those who have died — line the track at Brunswick High School May 18, 2012, during the local Relay For Life event. This year’s event begins Friday.

BRUNSWICK


Wendy McKenney came to volunteer in the Survivor tent three years ago. Her job was handing out T-shirts.


Her friends invited her to the local Relay For Life at the Brunswick High School track knowing she was a threemonth cancer survivor, “and having some difficulties processing what I had been through in the previous two months of my life.”


IRENE DUBREUIL AND WENDY MCKENNEY are co-chairwomen for the Relay For Life Committee in Brunswick.

IRENE DUBREUIL AND WENDY MCKENNEY are co-chairwomen for the Relay For Life Committee in Brunswick.

“They thought it would be good for me to come and see what Relay was all about and to help out,” McKenney said. She passed out T-shirts, “and as I stood there crying, meeting all of the people that had survived and moved on, and heard their stories and talked to them and shook their hands, I was hooked. It was an amazing experience; it was overwhelming.”


KIDS COLLECT donations to ‘get out of jail” at the 2012 Relay For Life. Anyone can take a turn “behind bars” as a mini-fundraiser during the 24hour event.

KIDS COLLECT donations to ‘get out of jail” at the 2012 Relay For Life. Anyone can take a turn “behind bars” as a mini-fundraiser during the 24hour event.

McKenney is now a cochairwoman of the Relay For Life committee. “It has become that volunteering for Relay is how I fight back against cancer, because I don’t want my children to have to hear those words; I don’t want my husband to have to hear those words.”


This year’s Relay For Life in Brunswick is 6 p.m. Friday, to 6 a.m. Saturday.


It is the largest annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society — an overnight community celebration where individuals and teams camp out, picnic, dance, play games and take turns circling around a track “relay” style to raise funds and fight cancer.


The event opens with the Survivor Lap and as the sun begins to set, the glow of hundreds of luminaria light the track; each bag lit is in honor of a loved one who won the fight against cancer, or in remembrance of a loved one who lost their battle.


An event that has taken place in the Mid-coast for several years, organizers believe there are many people affected by cancer who either don’t know what it is, or choose not to participate.


“I think for the community to have an event like this, it’s hard for survivors to show up sometimes,” McKenney said, “because it’s hard to remember and admit what you’ve had to go through to get there. And really Relay is about honoring survivors.”


Irene Dubreuil, chairwoman of the Relay For Life committee, said survivors who had their cancer removed surgically sometimes say that they didn’t have cancer, or that many other people had it worse than they did, or that because they didn’t have the chemo or radiation they aren’t really survivors.


“You are a cancer survivor,” Dubreuil said.


Dubreuil did her first Relay For Life five years ago with two co-workers from the Topsham Town Office.


She had found a lump in her breast, which a biopsy showed was “atypical.” She had a portion of her breast removed.


“When I was going through that, one of my dear friends was going through breast cancer, and she ended up passing away,” Dubreuil said. “That’s why I do it. Because I didn’t get cancer and they caught it early, that I was put on earth to do it and I will keep doing Relay for the rest of my life.”


Being with survivors, “They inspire me,” Dubreuil said. “Here these people have gone through chemo, radiation, surgery. … It’s just so inspiring. People complain about life and ‘stuff ’ and, really I have nothing to complain about. It puts life into prospective.”


McKenney said when a survivor comes to Relay, “I think it opens their eyes to the fact that they’re not alone in this battle; that there are so many other people — an overwhelmingly large amount of people in this community — that are in the same situation. So it’s a sense of community; there’s a sense of camaraderie, a sense of support. Everybody’s there for the same reason.”


Survivors can come, sign in and do the survivor lap at the start of the Relay without having a Relay team signed up.


The event is also for the caregivers, helping them remember and honor loved ones affected by cancer, and to heal as well.


This will be her third Relay, and McKenney, who will be the Relay committee chairwoman next year, said it wasn’t until after her first Relay, as she sobbed the whole way home, “that I really knew that I really wanted to participate and I wanted to be a part of such an amazing event.”


The next year as an official participant of her first Relay For Life, her husband and two daughters, ages 3 and 5 at the time, came, “and I was asked to carry the (survivor) banner around for the first lap and my husband and my daughters carried it with me and it was just an amazing experience to have my caregiver and my family with me. They’re the reason that I Relay.”


The American Cancer Society doesn’t want to sit quietly anymore, Dubreuil said: “We want to yell; we want to get the word out. We want to scream it out.”


For more information about Relay For Life of Brunswick and other fundraisers, visit relay.acsevents.org/ or Relay For Life Brunswick, Maine, on Facebook.


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