Bayonne residents RaeAnn Hempel and Joanne Baran know that cancer is an insidious disease that never takes a break. So both women devote their time to the city’s American Cancer Society Relay for Life event each year to help battle their relentless foe.
For each of the women, it’s personal.
Hempel has been involved with Relay for Life for four years. But in 2013, it struck home. About one year ago she was diagnosed with stage two skin cancer. And while no timing is good to receive the news, Hempel’s was particularly inopportune: it was one week before her oldest son’s birthday.
“My son turned 20 when I had to tell him his mom had skin cancer,” she said. “My two boys didn’t want to believe it.”
Since then, Hempel has gone through a battery of tests and all types of treatment.
“I did chemotherapy treatment. Biopsies. A complete body scan,” she said. “I’m still in treatment for it.”
Relay for Life will honor cancer survivors and caregivers, and raise money and awareness for cancer prevention. The annual event takes place from 6 p.m. Friday, May 30 to 6 a.m. Saturday, May 31 at the Don Ahern Memorial Veterans Stadium on 25th Street by Newark Bay.
Hempel wears three hats with the event: she is in charge of media, works on team recruitment, and is also involved as team recognition chair. And she urges the public to field teams for the relay, a walk to fight cancer and to honor those who have been taken by it. (Advanced registration for walking is $10; the night of or day of it’s $15.)
“We walk around the track the whole night, because cancer never sleeps—and neither will we,” Hempel said.
Baran was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.
And even though she knew of her family’s history of cancer, and she was on the lookout for it with mammograms starting in 1990, it still struck her unexpectedly and hard.
“In one year, I lost my job and my health insurance, in 2004,” Baran said. “The following year I found out.”
After the first two years of fighting the disease, Baran got involved with Relay for Life in 2007.
A nine-year survivor, she has thrown herself full-force into Relay for Life, which starts months earlier, with ongoing events benefiting the overall drive.
As the “survivor chairperson,” Baran plans survivor dinners and teas prior to the actual Relay. The guests at her events include not only Bayonne survivors, but also those from Hoboken, Jersey City, Staten Island, and other places.
She works at Relay for Life for the entire 12 hours of the event and encourages anyone who can to stop by, participate, or make a donation.
“I get satisfaction just by being there and seeing all the participants and seeing the survivors and all those who care for the survivors,” Baran said. “It’s just a night out dedicated to the survivors and the caregivers that have helped us through the journey.”
Besides the relay itself, there is a multitude of events for children and adults. Plans include DJ games, sack races, relay events, and a scavenger hunt. “Munchkin Land” activities consist of an inflatable “Balloon Typhoon,” spin art, face painting, ring toss, Hula Hoop, jump rope, and inflatable bowling. Miscellaneous activities scheduled are karaoke, a poker tent, and
Guitar Hero performances.
Of course there will be food, plenty of food. Kettle korn and smoothies were among the anticipated favorites.
Hempel encourages all who can to participate.
“Because it’s for a good cause,” she said. “We want to celebrate more birthdays. It’s a time everyone can get together and give everyone else support.”
One out of every three people is touched by cancer in some way, either by having the disease themselves or knowing a friend or family member who does. Hudson County has one of the highest number of people with cancer in the state.
Relay for Life takes place in 20 countries and more than 5,000 communities across the world.
Money raised from Relay for Life will fund cancer research and provide information to cancer patients.
Bayonne’s event raised more than $70,000 last year.
How to help
For more information, contact Lisa Renwick at the American Cancer Society at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 232-2572.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at: JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.