Survivors Speak at Windham Relay for Life: 'It Means Everything'

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WILLIMANTIC, CT (10/20/2017) Written by Jordan Corey

Cancer fighters, survivors and supporters came out in force on Oct. 14 for the annual Relay for Life of Greater Windham, which has generated more than $78,000 in donations. Hosted at the sports complex at Eastern Connecticut State University, the event achieved its goal of raising money and commemorating loved ones and caretakers.

Over the course of the nearly 12-hour event, Eastern's Center for Community Engagement (CCE) deployed 36 students who volunteered more than 150 hours. They helped with the overall set up and break down, basket raffle, gear store, luminaria and children's activities like face painting.

CCE student leader Carly Perron spoke of her goal for students: "We encourage students to talk to the survivors," she said, believing that it's important to learn from survivors' stories.

The Relay for Life evokes a strong sense of community in Windham. "It's a milestone," commented one survivor. She emphasized the fact that until somebody actually has cancer, there is no way of knowing what it's really like, and while every experience is individualized, there is meaning behind survivors coming together as a group. She also highlighted the true significance of caregivers in the life of a cancer patient, and their consequent role in the relay. "If it wasn't for my husband and daughter," she said, "I would have starved."

In addition to physical support, the aforementioned survivor addressed the need for emotional support when dealing with cancer for a plethora of reasons. One obstacle she touched on was the stigma surrounding having short hair as a middle-aged woman. At first, she felt self-conscious about it, but over time she learned to accept and even embrace how she looks. "Cancer doesn't care, so I don't care."

Another survivor at last weekend's relay, an army veteran, overcame stage-four stomach cancer and spoke about the toll that comes with undergoing chemotherapy treatment. "It almost killed me the first few rounds," she said, revealing that she eventually turned to a shaman in Panama for answers, where she was stationed at the time. Within months, she was in remission. Though many of her family members have stopped regularly attending Relay for Life over time, this survivor has been involved in the event for 20 years. "It means everything."

This notion of solidarity is further displayed during the luminaria ceremony. Luminaria are white paper bags with names written on them in recognition of those who have fought, are actively fighting or have lost their lives to cancer. They are lit at each Relay for Life to allow people to grieve, reflect and find hope.

Donations for the 2017 Greater Windham County Relay for Life may continue to trickle in until Dec. 30. To donate and for more information, visit

Each year more than 5,000 communities and 27 countries take part in Relay for Life, the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Since its inception, Relay for Life has accumulated nearly $5 billion in donations.


Eastern is the state of Connecticut's public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,400 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut's 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 20 other states and 29 other countries. A residential campus offering 39 majors and 65 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Eastern has been awarded "Green Campus" status by the Princeton Review seven years in a row. For more information, visit.