The 103-year-old American Cancer Society has a special regard for Middletown for a couple of reasons – one, it holds the biggest Relay for Life event in Delaware, and two, the founding volunteers who put the event together have stuck with it for almost two decades.
“To have event leads for 18 years is – to my knowledge – unprecedented,” said Julia Foxwell of the American Cancer Society. “…There really is no comparison.”
Sure enough, since 1998 Mary Ward Hutchinson and Susan Faulkner, both from Middletown, have come together to organize the Relay for Life – a once-a-year event held across the U.S. and in 20 other countries to raise money for cancer research.
This year, the Middletown Relay for Life will be held at Silver Lake Park on Saturday, June 3 starting at 6 p.m. and continue until the next day at 7 a.m.
Organizing the event in Middletown which includes the walk and several ceremonies attended by almost 2,000 people takes a lot of work. Typically, volunteers in other towns or cities stay with it for two or three years, according to Foxwell. Having Hutchinson and Faulkner do it for almost two decades is “rare.”
“Their passion for the mission of the American Cancer Society is truly remarkable,” Foxwell added.
To be more exact, Hutchinson and Faulkner have actually volunteered for the American Cancer Society for 25 years in various roles. They began participating in the Glasgow Relay for Life in the early 1990s.
“I had an interest in health and wellness from being a physical education teacher and I was asked to participate and I said ‘yes,’” Hutchinson recalled. “My life has also been touched by cancer – I lost both my parents to cancer four years apart from each other. My father had throat cancer and larynx cancer; he was a longtime smoker. My mother had lung cancer and she too was a long time smoker.”
Two of Hutchinson’s sisters are cancer survivors, she added.
“I wanted to stay in the fight against this disease because it is pretty dreadful,” Hutchinson explained. “I wanted to stay involved and do my part.”
For Faulkner, the story is similar. She too knows about the pain of losing someone to the disease.
“My aunt passed away in 1993 from breast cancer and my family just really wanted to fight back,” Faulkner said. “We didn’t want anyone else to go through what our family experienced so I put a family team together and did the Relay in Glasgow.”
After participating in the Glasgow event, Hutchinson and Faulkner – both working moms caring for their respective families – were approached and asked to start the event in Middletown. The rest was history.
“Now, here we are 18 years later and since then I’ve lost two grandmothers to the disease and my father is a two-time lung cancer survivor. I’ve also lost several friends,” Faulkner said. “It’s a disease that makes me continue to stay so we can raise the money to fight it.”
What makes the Middletown Relay special
The Middletown Relay for Life has grown over the years and has helped raised millions of dollars for cancer research and fund programs for cancer patients, survivors and their families.
As of May 31, over $100,000 has been raised by 67 teams from the MOT area for this year’s event on Saturday. The goal is $181,000.
The event features many activities, including the walk where team members take turns walking all night around the Relay track. There are also ceremonies, including the Luminaria Ceremony where candles are lit inside personalized paper bags and then placed around the track to honor those who fought the disease. And, there are also moments when participants raise awareness about cancer, urging folks to get screened and offering information on where to find resources.
“We try to make it educational too,” Faulkner said. “That really sets us apart.”
And, it’s not too late to get involved. People can still sign up to join or start a team online. Those who don’t want to do the walk can also attend and witness the community in action the day of the event, Hutchinson said.
“It’s an unforgettable experience. After you’ve come to see it once, you’ll want to come back every year,” Hutchinson added. “It’s a wholesome environment where people can come and bring their families.”
You can learn more about the Middletown Relay for Life by visiting, www.middletownrelay.org.