Carla Briccotto knows firsthand what it's like to be diagnosed with cancer.
The 51-year-old Middletown-area resident had a lumpectomy in 2002 to remove a pre-cancerous tumor, followed by surgery in 2009 to remove malignant nodules from her thyroid.
Yet Briccotto says she doesn't consider herself to be a cancer survivor.
"What I went through was a little uncomfortable, but it was easy compared to what so many women go through, as far as chemotherapy and radiation treatments," she said. "I'm not a survivor. I'm just lucky. It's not even remotely the same."
Yet it was her own brushes with the disease – and her ability to relate to the experiences of cancer patients and survivors – that have since led Briccotto to donate countless hours as a volunteer organizer for the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life in Middletown, Making Strides Walk in Wilmington and numerous other community fundraisers and cancer awareness events.
And it's for that work that Briccotto is being recognized as one of three Hometown Heroes who will be honored at the American Cancer Society of Delaware's Crystal Ball at the Wilmington Country Club on Saturday.
"Carla is really engaged and has done so much to create awareness and make a difference for our organization and in her community," said Theresa Young, the state vice president of the American Cancer Society. "She's a go-getter with lots of energy who also lives up to her commitments. She's also a good strategist with great ideas, all of which is why we chose to honor her as the volunteer Hometown Hero at this year's ball."
The other two honorees at the black-tie affair will include First State Prostate Support Group and Dr. Diana Dickson-Witmer, the associate medical director of the Christiana Care Breast Center at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center in Newark.
"I'm truly very humbled, although I really don't think it's hit me yet," Briccotto said of the honor. "I don't know how I rose to the top of the pool of nominees because there are so many people that advocate and work tirelessly as volunteers for the American Cancer Society that they all deserve to be honored."
Briccotto said she first became a volunteer with Middletown Relay For Life just months before her first cancer diagnosis.
"I joined a team of walkers with some of my friends and just became hooked by the camaraderie and how everyone came together to support one another," she said. "The next year, I coordinated the kids' corner and I've just kept going ever since."
Among her most recent endeavors, Briccatto organized Relay Recesses last spring at Silver Lake Elementary School, Old State Elementary School and Tender Loving Kare in Middletown.
Page 2 of 2 - The events, which varied slightly from site to site, combined fun activities with educational programs about health, fitness, tobacco and skin care.
"The idea was that there are so many new people in the Middletown area who maybe don't know about Relay For Life," Briccotto said. "My thought was if you can expose and educate the little ones about cancer prevention then you can also reach their parents and help make them aware of the need for early detection."
As the owner of the Clean As A Whistle, Briccotto also recently joined the Cleaning For A Reason network, which provides free and discounted residential cleaning services to cancer patients and their caregivers.
And on Oct. 12, her Making Strides team, "Blues For the Boobs," will be raffling off a pink-and-white electric guitar donated by Middletown Music that's been signed by Grammy Award-winning blues guitarist Derek Trucks, along with his wife and fellow blues musician Susan Tedeschi, during a drawing at Stewarts Brewing Company in Bear. So far, the raffle has already raised more than $2,000.
"I just want to do anything I can to get the message out about cancer prevention, early detection and all the wonderful support systems that are available," Briccotto said. "And I feel like we must be doing something right, because the number of survivors at Relay For Life increases every year. That's a fantastic thing and I owe so much gratitude and appreciation to everyone involved with that event. They are why I do what I do"