Beverly Griffin Dunne began attending the Peabody Relay for Life with her son’s Boy Scout Troop. Then in 2008, when her son Brian was a senior at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare pediatric cancer. And just like that, as it has become for so many other families, Dunne’s involvement in the annual event was now so much more personal.
The next year, 2009, Dunne and her family formed their own relay team: “All Dunne with Cancer,” and have been participating in the relay ever since. This year they have two teams participating.
And this year, Dunne is the honorary chairperson of the relay.
“The Relay for Life is a huge community event,” Dunne said. “I think one of the most important things people need to realize is the Relay for Life fund all goes to research and to support for cancer patients.”
Dunne said her son Brian is “doing wonderfully” — he has finished treatment and was able to attend college after having to defer for a year. He had been able to graduate with his high school class while still in the middle of undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Brian is currently in his third year at Norwich University, where he is a Cadet in the military program.
Two-time cancer survivor Karen Esperson, who is the main chairperson of the Peabody Relay for Life, became involved in a relay on the South Shore, participating in honor of her aunt who died in 2004. For the past six years Esperson has been involved in the Peabody relay.
“I think it is important for the community to come together and it’s always helpful to give back because most people have been touched with cancer,” Esperson said.
The event has three big traditions, Dunne said: celebrate, remember and fight back.
The ceremony begins Friday with a celebration of those who’ve battled cancer and survived, including a special survivor lap and ceremony where the survivors gather together at 6 p.m. to walk the track. At 9:30 p.m., the remember lap and ceremony takes place in which the entire track is lined with luminary bags in memory of someone who lost his or her battle. The remember lap is walked in silence. The last ceremony, fight back, is to make a commitment to raise funds for cancer research.
“It is so hard to watch someone go through the process, you want to do something to fight back,” Esperson said. “This gives an opportunity for people touched by cancer to come together. It is a positive experience where you can relate to everyone there because cancer has affected them in some way.”
Many people don’t realize that the Relay for Life is open to the public, Dunne added. She said relay teams work all year leading up to the event, raising funds and organizing activities for everyone to enjoy. There will be carnival style games for kids, a moon bounce, face-painting, hair braiding, a Zumba class and a huge raffle with everything from Red Sox tickets to TVs and timeshares as prizes.
Along with games and raffles, there will be performances by a martial artist, the PVMHS band, the Peabody Jazz Band and an a cappella group. At 8 p.m. on Friday the Miss Relay contest will be held — the guys dress in drag and carry a purse walking around getting donations. Last year, the contest raised $1,000 in one hour, Esperson said.
From 3-5 p.m., Kids Care Relay will take place. Peabody was one of the first towns to introduce Kids Care, in which the kids walk the track with their own banner in support.
One of the main features of the two-day event is the Survivor Dinner at 6:30 p.m. Survivors and a caregiver are welcome to a complimentary dinner prepared by the high school culinary arts program as part of its final exam.
The goal for the 2011 Peabody relay is to raise $168,000, Esperson said. She added they make the most out of the money, spending as little as six percent on event costs so that 94 percent can go straight to the American Cancer Society. With well over 600 participants on 60 teams, she is hoping to reach their goals and then some.
“It is a time to celebrate survivors and remember those who lost their battle and support funds for cancer research, ” she said.
The Relay for Life kicks off on Friday, June 17 at 3 p.m. and ends on Saturday, June 18 at 8:30 a.m. The event is being held at the PVMHS track, rain or shine.
“We’re not going to let a little rain stop us,” Dunne said.