The grand opening ceremony was followed by a Survivors’ Lap; purple-clad individuals currently battling cancer or that have overcome cancer strode confidently around the track to the sounds of wild cheering from spectators.
Florence Stegmuller, team captain of Reach for the Stars, admitted she was an emotional basket case as she took the first lap with her fellow cancer survivors.
"The amount of support is overwhelming," she said, "all these people clapping for you. There are no words for it; it's like a family reunion."
Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September and is currently undergoing radiation treatment. Though he has been involved with Relay For Life at Juniper Valley Park since its inception eight years ago, this year's event took on a whole new meaning as he joined in on the Survivors' Lap.
"It's the difference between looking from the outside and being on the inside," said Arcuri. "It was a really emotional experience."
Dealing with cancer is more stressful on the family than on the individual, pointed out Arcuri, whose family has been a source of strength for him since his diagnosis.
Roseann Nevin, who has never had cancer, but whose husband, mother and neighbor are survivors, shared similar sentiments.
“I come out every year in support of them. We're walking for all of them,” said Nevin.
Eileen O'Grady, who has come to Relay as a spectator for the last five years, observed that the number of tents (pitched by participants who will walk all night) increases every year, an indication of better awareness, support and research for cancer. A breast cancer survivor whose disease is now in remission, she marveled at the advancements that have been made in technology and treatment.
"Most of these people have been through chemotherapy and radiation,” she said. “Fifty years ago, many of them wouldn't be standing here, myself included."
The technology has been less of a boon for Stegmuller, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and has since battled five different types of cancer, many brought on by various treatments. Ever the optimist, she pointed out that each disease has been caught early. The day before, the doctor had given her positive feedback.
"I got good results yesterday,” said Stegmuller with her trademark infectious smile, “so I've got even more reason to be celebrating here today!"