The first year of three towns joining forces as one against cancer was a success as more than 300 people gathered at Ahern Middle School last weekend for the Relay For Life of Mansfield, Foxboro and Sharon.
United by the tenet, “Together, We’re Stronger,” cancer survivors, caretakers and others whose lives have been touched by the disease in the tri-town area rallied each other as they walked laps around the track or merely ate together during the survivor’s dinner.
Guests on Saturday night included Maria Stephanos of Foxboro, a news anchor at WCVB in Boston, and TV series “Survivor” contestant Jeremy Collins, a Cambridge firefighter who appeared in Seasons 29 and 31 of the reality series which airs on CBS.
Before the survivor’s lap began, Stephanos told the crowd about her best friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer and invited several survivors to say their names and the type of cancer they had overcome.
Stephanos hugged each person who came up to the microphone.
“It fills my heart to stand here with all of you,” Stephanos told the survivors. “You are all survivors and my heart is with you.”
Stephanos encouraged the onlookers to clap for the survivors throughout the duration of the lap, which was set to “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John.
“That’s the least we can do for you,” she said.
One survivor in attendance, Sandi Canning of Norton, sported a purple tank top, purple-rimmed glasses and even purple hair dye. Canning is a 10-year survivor of breast cancer, for which she carries the gene.
“To me, it’s very emotional,” Canning said of the event. “It’s emotional to see all these people here who have survived.”
Canning, who also was a caregiver to a family member with cancer, said she cries during the luminaria walk, which takes place later in the evening.
Lining the track were over 1,200 white bags with lights inside, decorated to honor a family member or friend who has died of cancer. While some bags only had names on them — two simply read “Aunt Mary” and “Logan” — others had pictures of a particular loved one. A picture of a woman with two grandchildren read “Grammy,” while another bag had a photo of a woman in a white suit, inscribed “Gramma.” Yet another bag had a picture of a mother and a baby wearing a sunbonnet, with “Mommy and Me” written on the bag.
Event co-leader Theresa Freeman said she had been “cautiously optimistic” of the event’s success with the merger of three towns, but was pleased to see that the efforts to bring those towns together in order to make one large event for more people had paid off.
“We’re thrilled to see the turnout today,” Freeman said. “People keep showing up, too. I’m amazed.”
The event was expected to raise $80,000 for the American Cancer Society.