Promotion from the Heart

 In Blog

The American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life is one cause that I strongly support. A few of my family members have had cancer, and several of my friends’ lives have been really affected by cancer in some way. For that reason, I’ve been enjoying assisting Janice with the Hampshire County Relay’s publicity this year.

One pre-event that resonated with me was the kick-off breakfast in February. During the breakfast, the tri-chairs for this year’s Relay were honored on stage, and it was amazing to see the many ways that they contributed to making the event possible.

There are too many reasons to list why Tom McCusker, 45, of Florence participates in the Relay For Life of Hampshire County.

McCusker has been a part of Relay since the third annual Hampshire County event and has been a tri-chair once before. He has been an active member of the planning team since 2001.

His inspiration comes mainly from knowing a family member with cancer. His sister-in-law, Donna, was diagnosed in late March of 2001 with stage 4 colorectal cancer.

Donna passed away shortly after her battle with cancer began, but she had heard about the Relay For Life and asked the family to make two promises: one, to take her to the event; and two, to start a family team after her passing. That team is now called Donna’s Darlins’.

Tom also walks for his father, who lost his battle with cancer as well, but he says that Donna was the reason he started to Relay.

Along with Tom, Wendy Payson, 45, of Southampton and Kurt LaPlante, 20, of Chicopee are also serving as tri-chairs this year.

The tri-chairs are incredibly motivated and passionate about helping the American Cancer Society raise awareness and dollars. They spend hundreds of hours together in a Relay season. They gather sponsors, oversee fundraisers, help to register teams and volunteers and plan the hundreds of details of the 24-hour event.

Wendy has been Relaying since the event came to Hampshire County in 1998; this is her third year as a tri-chair, and she has been on the planning committee for 10 years.

This year, Hampshire County is making the theme of the Relay “over-the-top circus.” The activities and events will be planned around this theme. The survivors’ tent at the event will be a Big Top-style tent, and teams are encouraged to host on-site carnival games as fundraisers.

Wendy says about the theme, “We feel it’s something people will really latch onto and have fun with.”

Tom hopes that the Relay this year will motivate people the way he has been motivated. One in three people will be diagnosed with a form of cancer this year, and this is part of what pushes him to do more, as well as Donna’s impact on his life.

The three tri-chairs hope to use events such as the kick-off breakfast and the innovative theme in February to “get the audience pumped to save more lives,” according to Kurt.

Almost all who participate in Relay share that sentiment. “I want to see an end to this dreadful disease,” says Kurt.

Tom adds, “Come to Relay to experience what we all know. We all need to fight to make it happen.”

Wendy agrees completely. “When I walk around the track in the middle of the night, it’s my chance to reflect on the lives lost to cancer, the many people struggling with the disease in this very moment and the incredible number of people around the track who have come out to make a difference. Together, we will find a cure. And I will be Relaying until that cure is found,” she says.

That inspires me to get walking for next year’s Relay.

To volunteer for Relay or to learn more about it, email or visit

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