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Fighting cancer as a team

Relay for Life is a massive undertaking by volunteers that handle every small part of it as a team. For more than a decade, Dana DeFreeuw has been one of that team’s outstanding players.

This May will mark DeFreeuw’s third year as an event lead for Relay for Life of Suffolk, a volunteer position that demands coordination and big-picture thinking. She assists other volunteers in preparations both before and during the Relay, and also helps look for sponsors and even more volunteers to fill key positions.

“We are finding the volunteers to fill those positions (and) make sure those jobs get done,” DeFreeuw said in a phone interview.

She first started as a Relay for Life team captain 10-plus years ago with an organization in Chesapeake, before she learned about the Suffolk Relay. Today she’s part of the “Committee for a Cure” Relay team, alongside family and other Relay for Life of Suffolk committee members.

DeFreeuw has felt the impacts of cancer throughout her family. She lost her grandmother in 1985 to lung cancer, and about three years ago her cousin died from pancreatic cancer. Her sister is also a survivor of ovarian cancer.

For her, it’s about celebrating survivors like her sister, while at the same time pushing forward in that elusive search for a cure.

“I want to make sure that we are celebrating and uplifting the survivors that we still have (with us), and that’s a big part of Relay with the ceremonies we have in place,” she said. “But I also want to make sure that funds are being raised towards finding that cure and funding programs.”

She urged others to come out to the Relay and experience the event for themselves — especially the evening’s luminaria ceremony, a solemn affair held in honor of those who have fought cancer and in remembrance of those that have died from cancer.

“If you’ve never been part of the luminaria ceremony, (then) that’s something you’re not going to want to miss. That’s a very emotional and impactful ceremony. Once you attend one, you’ll never want to miss another one,” she said.

Relay for Life of Suffolk will be held on May 18 at Nansemond River High School, 3301 Nansemond Parkway.

Survivors and supporters alike will be engaged from noon to 10 p.m. with laps around the school track, fundraising activities held by different teams, live entertainment and food vendors.

Following the opening ceremony at noon, there will be non-stop laps that will include survivor and caregiver laps, along with festive alternatives to keep people moving.

There will also be the lighting of the luminarias at 9 p.m. to remember those that have been lost to cancer. Bags are available for purchase online for $10 and on the day of the event as well. These will be personalized to honor loved ones and placed around the track for participants to walk among the candlelit memorials.

As of Tuesday evening, about $37,267 has been raised towards this year’s $150,000 goal, with 25 days to go. Visit relayforlife.org/suffolkva for upcoming deadlines and updates to the event’s schedule. Registration for the event is free.

Those interested in registering as a vendor or who have other questions can contact Tara Asare, community development manager for Relay for Life of Suffolk, by email at tara.asare@cancer.org or by calling 493-7972.