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An Inspirational Kick Off to Relay for Life

Commack staff, students and community members look to run cancer off the road.

Excitement was in the air Tuesday night in the Commack High School auditorium, where students, teachers, staff and cancer survivors showed their commitment to fighting cancer during a Relay for Life Kick Off event. 

In its inaugural event last year, the Commack school community in the overnight event, in which 150,000 students, parents, staff and families touched by cancer walk the school track to show that cancer never sleeps.

“It’s amazing. The energy and support through the community is incredible,” Dawn Tropeano, the ACS staff partner for Commack schools. 

The event was brought to Commack last year through the work of two students.

“I attended my first Relay for Life at Northport High School in support of my mom,” Jamie Keenan, 17, said. “I knew I wanted to bring it to my own high school community.”

Keenan, who was a sophomore at the time worked for more than a year with administrators and staff to bring the relay to life.

The students of Commack dedicated themselves last year to the relay by doing nearly all of the preparation work, including setting up illuminati bags – filled with sand and a candle to remember those who are still fighting their battle with cancer and those who have died from the disease. This year, they’ll do it all over again.

“I walked 16 laps between 1:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. with the words hope and cure lit in candles. It was truly a memorable experience,” senior Alissa Pellegrino said.

“Their enthusiasm was contagious. They got relay going in Commack,” Co-organizer Susan Nissen said of the students. 

“To watch my daughter with her friends run car washes, have jewelry parties and just spend their time as teenagers to try and raise money for this cure is really quite amazing,” she said.

Nissen is co-chairing the relay with Valerie Giannoulis.

“I wanted to do more to make more birthdays happen and bring more smiles to people’s faces,” Giannoulis said.

One of the most memorable stories of the night came from mathematics teacher Barbara Gerson, who underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, 28 doses of radiation and surgery to fight breast cancer.

"When I came back, the entire math department was wearing pink. Even the men were wearing pink ties," she recalled. Another day, it was pink bracelts, followed by buttons and hats.

"I was fighting cancer. My department was fighting with me. In fact, the whole school was fighting with me," she said.

"My students were also on my team. They were put on wig patrol. They would tell me if my wig was falling off or leaning to one side," she said with a smile.

One day, when she returned from being out of class for weeks, she walked into her calculus class and the entire class, made up of mostly boys, were all wearing pink shirts, she recalled.

Today, Gerson has no eviceence of cancer and a recent doctor visit proved excellent results. "It taught me to wake up every day and say thank you," she said.

This year, all Commack schools will have the opportunity to participate in the event during the year through field days and other activities.

So far, there are already 41 teams and 140 participants in the fundraiser, which will culminate on May 10, when more than a thousand Commack residents will put on their gym sneakers for the overnight walk and fundraiser. 

For more information about Commack's Relay for Life, call 631-912-2106 or click here to make a donation or create a team.

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