Fighting a deadly disease with a Relay for Life


Melissa Cooney’s grandparents both had cancer. Her grandfather couldn’t beat it, dying in 2014. When Cooney joined the Cancer Awareness Club at Locust Valley High School in 10th grade, she didn’t know what to expect. But she did know why she was there. “I joined because I wanted to learn more about it,” explained Cooney, who’s now a senior. “I wanted to make a difference.” The Cancer Awareness Club held its annual Relay for Life on May 12 in the school’s gymnasium. Cooney, 17, who has helped run the event every year since she became a member, participated. Relay for Life, created by the American Cancer Society, is a team fundraising event in which participant take turns walking around a track. Each team must have a member on the track at all times — to make the point that cancer never sleeps. Locust Valley’s Relay for Life started at 6 p.m. and continued until midnight. It included other fundraising activities like karaoke and the “How well do you know your friend?” question-and-answer game. And there were several themed laps, including those focused on survivors and caregivers. Loud bursts of applause filled the gym often, a show of support for the participants. At 9 p.m., the group lit small paper lanterns for the luminary service to honor those who have died of the disease. The students walked a lap, their shadows reflected on the gym walls, as lanterns glowed in the center. “Cancer has affected so many people in this community over the past few years,” Cooney said, shaking her head. “It’s important for members of our community to support one another.” Cory Haldas, the Cancer Awareness Club adviser and a permanent middle school substitute teacher, said he believes the event is important. “Countrywide, it brings together more than 3.5 million people,” he said. “The goal is to celebrate those who have battled cancer and to raise funds.” Haldas has been lucky. None of his friends or family members have had cancer, but he said that seeing others affected by the disease made him want to help. The event itself took a great deal of planning. Cooney and other members of the leadership team planned it for several months. They solicited sponsorships from local businesses, all the while helping to spread the word and encouraging others to raise money. Morgan Wright, the Relay for Life community manager from the American Cancer Society, helped the students organize the event. Wright met with the group weekly over a period of several months to help them brainstorm ideas on how to fundraise effectively, and she provided any resources that were needed. “[The leadership team] kicked it into high gear these past two weeks to make the event as successful as it was,” Wright said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.” About 20 teams participated in the event, and more than 150 people attended. After the small operational costs are met, the donated money will be sent to the American Cancer Society for cancer research and for daily services for people with the disease. It will also go to Hope Lodge, which provides accommodations for patients and caregivers free of charge. The school will accept donations until the end of August, which can be made at For more information on Relay for Life, visit SPageServer/?pagename=relay