American Cancer Society’s student supporters help fight disease

Mills students step out to aid cancer research, patients

Teagan Sullivan, Contributing writer

Cancer: a word that flips anybody’s stomach the second it is heard. Whether it’s a personal experience or not, most people are aware of how deadly this disease is. Organizations all over the world, like the American Cancer Society, are working hard to raise money to find a cure for this horribly, uncontrolled, abnormality of cell growth.

Relay for Life is one of the many events run by the American Cancer Society. Every year, over 5,000 Relay for Life events occur in over 20 countries, including one just up the road in Farmington that has drawn teams of students from Lewis S. Mills High School. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 78 percent of total funds from Relay go towards cancer research, patient support, prevention, information and education, and detection and treatment.

This overnight event involves teams of family and friends taking turns walking around the track around the clock, day and night. This is meant to signify that “cancer never rests, so for one night, neither do we.”

Some people participate in Relay purely to support a good cause, but others have motivations that hit closer to home.

Lauren Alvarez, a senior at Lewis Mills, has been a Relay for Life team captain since her freshmen year. She is also a member of the event leadership team. She finds it to be “surprisingly manageable” being a member. She has meetings once a month and volunteers outside of those meetings whenever she wishes.

Lauren speaks from experience when she talks on the topic of personal remembrance. Both of her grandmothers and even her own mother passed away from cancer. She says this makes Relay for Life extremely “emotional and impactful” for her.

“I do think that people who have serious connections to cancer tend to take it much more seriously,” Lauren says.

Contributed by Lauren Alvarez
Lauren Alvarez and Morgan Sokol, members of a Relay for Life team of Lewis S. Mills students, hold a banner at last year’s event in Farmington.

Historically, many students from Mills and surrounding towns have supported the event, sending teams to participate in the Farmington relay, held annually in the spring. In 2016, of the 1,775 participants in the Farmington Valley Relay for Life event, 168 were from Lewis Mills High School, according to organizers. Last year, the May event raised $633,000, with 142 Mills students – including Alvarez and her team – raising over $40,500. The fundraising results placed the Farmington Relay fourth in the country among more than 3,000 Relays nationwide, and first in New England, according to the organization. This year’s event was recently postponed to Sept. 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite plans to head off to college at UConn in the fall, Alvarez said she hopes to return to participate in the rescheduled event.

Cancer and other serious illnesses impact not only the victim, but also the victim’s family and friends. The Cancer Society of Finland reports that illnesses either bring people together or creates distance between them. The distance is often created when the patient hides their illness from their family members in order to protect them from the pain. On the other hand, families are often seen to have come together at the occurrence of an illness in the family. This may involve reuniting of distant family members or just simply bringing family together to support and help the patient through this tough time.

However, the cancer patient and their loved ones often must protect one another from each other’s emotions. This means everyone must stay positive and some people may even choose to keep a few secrets in order to protect each other from defeat and sorrow, according to the group.

Not only do Relay for Life events and personal cancer experiences impact patients and their families in the moment, they also tend to have a long-term effect on people and remain a special memory in their minds for years to come.

Mackenzie Ives, a 2015 graduate of Wamogo Regional High School and 2019 graduate of Fordham University, lives a busy life. She lives in New York City and works a job at Ernst & Young, a multinational professional services firm, directly out of college. Even with such a busy life, Mackenzie still has crystal-clear memories of her time participating in Relay for Life. She participated in 7th through 12th grade.

“I loved the camaraderie of the event. It was such a positive experience and was a great way to raise money and awareness for a good cause,” Mackenzie recalled.

Along with being a great cause to support, Relay also creates great friendships.

“It was such a fun time bonding with friends and family and taking turns walking all night. It was an event we could look forward to every year,” said Mackenzie.

Contributed by Lauren Alvarez
Seniors Alisha Petrosky, Allison Fox and Morgan Sokol pose at Relay for Life in Farmington last spring.

Relay for Life isn’t the only event that the American Cancer Society runs. At Lewis S. Mills High School specifically, there has been a fundraiser called Coaches vs. Cancer. This is run by a relay team in order to raise money for that specific team’s relay. The event consists of a volleyball game of students versus faculty. All proceeds from the event go towards the relay team that ran the fundraiser.

Mills is not the only school that has run this fundraiser, but senior Kathryn Bergstrom and her team have run the local fundraiser for the past three years that it has been at Mills. Between this event and being on a relay team, Kathryn says she loves supporting the American Cancer Society.

“My grandma had cancer when I was little. She didn’t beat it in the end but giving another family or person a better chance at beating cancer is why I relay,” says Kathryn.

The American Cancer Society isn’t only meant to fund cancer research. The funds raised also help current patients with transportation and lodging while they are being treated.

Contributed by Lauren Alvarez
A team of students from Lewis S. Mills High School participates in Relay for Life in Farmington last year.

One out of three people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life. Annually, over 600,000 people lose their battles with the disease.

Members of the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life members, and those involved in Coaches versus Cancer, all strive to reduce those numbers by fundraising. All these fundraisers and others worldwide have the same end goal: to celebrate survivors, honor those who have lost their battle, support current patients and their families, and eventually eradicate cancer.