Hundreds of people filed into the Southampton High School gym on Friday night, clad in grass skirts, coconut bras and Hawaiian leis.
Although it sounds like a fun party—and at times it was—the group was there for a more serious reason. By the end of the 12-hour-long event, nearly $48,000 had been raised to fund research for a cure for cancer.
The event was the inaugural Relay for Life event at Southampton High School, and was hosted by the students of the Southampton High School Key Club. With the help of 38 teams and 309 participants, they stayed up all night walking laps around the ground floor of the high school—it had to be moved inside from the outdoor track at the last minute due to rain—to symbolize that cancer does not sleep, and so neither would they.
“This is such a giving community,” said Key Club adviser and social studies teacher Peter Liubenov at the event. “I really want to try and make this an annual summer kickoff event for Southampton.”
Relay for Life is the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, and according to RelayforLife.org, the events are known for being staged in a way that is unique to the community that hosts them. In Southampton, teams camped out overnight and took turns walking or running around the high school lobby, with at least one participant from each team asked to remain on the “track” at all times.
The event had special significance for almost everyone in the high school gym that night, because almost everyone had been affected in some way by cancer. Together, hand in hand, cancer survivors, caregivers, family and friends, and in some cases those left behind, came together.
For one woman, Heather Haux, the struggle with cancer has been a long one. Over the past 15 years, she has had 47 surgeries and undergone several rounds of chemotherapy to battle a systemic form of skin cancer. Ms. Haux said events like the one in Southampton make the fight a little easier.
“I feel that I am an incredibly fortunate cancer patient,” she said at the beginning of the event. “What I have found over the past 15 years is what is in this room—I have found a community.
“What makes an evening like this come together is that everyone shares a common thread: they have been impacted by cancer. You have loved someone, mourned someone, supported someone, sometimes all of the above,” she continued. “Those threads that bind us are woven like a quilt into the community, and it is a turnout like this that makes being a cancer survivor and patient tolerable.”
In total, the event raised $47,415 to support cancer research. It drew participants from across the East End. One participant, 15-year-old Samantha Mahoney of Southampton, said she was happy to be on her team, Hula for Hope. Samantha, who has family members who had cancer, said it is important to give back when possible.
“Cancer was a big struggle for members of my family,” Samantha said. “So whenever I have a chance to give back, I like to do it.”