The bright pink T-shirts stood out, as Team Melissa made its way around Johnston War Memorial Park on Friday evening. They were one of 12 all-volunteer teams, made up of more than 200 participants that participated in the 2012 Johnston/North Providence Relay for Life, which is slated to rake in more than $40,000 for the American Cancer Society.
For their part, Team Melissa has raised $5,178 to date, with still more donations expected to pour in.
Their motivation? Melissa Rourke.
“We did this for our cousin,” said Alycia Angelone, standing next to 25-year-old Rourke, who continues to battle Adenocarcinoma, a form of malignant cancer that develops in cells of the glandular or secretory epithelial tissue that lines internal organs. Adenocarcinoma can occur in many different places in the body. In Rourke’s case, it’s in her lungs.
“We’re all family members on Team Melissa,” said Team Captain Julie Tripodi, as she pushed her children, 4-year-old Abby and 1-year-old Logan, in a stroller around the track.
Team Melissa was one of the top fundraising teams but did not surpass the efforts of Team Raging Through the Ages, which captured top individual honors after raising $6,315.
Team One Step at a Time, under the direction of Captain Lori Boffi, won the best campsite award for the third time in as many years, but Boffi passed her trophy along to Team Melissa, congratulating them on not only a great campsite, but their fundraising efforts as well.
“Those people did an incredible job,” Boffi, who owns Card$Mart in Johnston, said of Team Melissa. “We need more teams like that; they were family members and their story stretched farther than any other team – all the way to Melissa’s relatives in California.”
Boffi’s team collected $3,578 so far in their Relay efforts.
In keeping with tradition, the 2012 Johnston/North Providence Relay for Life began with a “Survivor’s Lap.” Bagpiper Ashley Krug, a member of Team Blue Jays, played as cancer survivors made their first lap.
Mayor Joseph Polisena spoke to the survivors in his opening remarks, thanking them for their support and bravery.
“You’re the inspiration everyone needs to keep fighting against this awful disease. Cancer took my mother three years ago. It obviously still hurts; please, keep up the great work you’re all doing,” he said. “My message to the people in Washington: We need them to understand cancer is killing too many people. We need them to put more money into cancer research.”
Lon Cerel, the keynote speaker during opening ceremonies, is a six-year cancer survivor.
“My doctor told me he doesn’t want to see me anymore; that I’m clean. We need to hear that statement more and more. That’s why we have to keep Relaying,” he said.
The Relay included performances by deaf comic Mike Murray and the band Bird on a Rock that played for free at the request of Team NAC Captain Les Torrey. The Call Out ceremony and Pound Auction organized by Brian Angell of Team Blue Jays raised additional funds.
The Relay also featured a Luminaria Ceremony chaired by Terry Novak and Robin DaCosta of Team Raging Through the Ages. The purpose of that ceremony, Novak said, “is to remember those who have succumbed to cancer, to honor those who battle cancer and those who have been diagnosed with the disease.”
This year’s theme was Disney, and teams set up campsites with a number of characters, such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
“Both Walt Disney and Roy Disney died of cancer,” Novak explained. “Dr. Gordon Klatt, founder of Relay for Life, was recently diagnosed with cancer. The Luminaria bags you see here tonight were made by our fundraising genius Nikki Batsford, who decorated the bags with Disney characters.”
Saturday’s heavy rains wiped out the scheduled morning events, including the Miss Relay contest and the Fight Back Ceremony, which was coordinated by Team Answer to Cancer, captained by Sam DaCosta and made up of local high school students.
Novak is hopeful that those events will be back next year.
“We’ll have to pray it doesn’t rain next year. Personally, I’m excited for the 2013 Relay,” she said. “We’re all hoping to make that the best ever.”